Almost half of Gareth Southgate’s England team weren’t even alive when he missed that penalty at Wembley – so why should they carry the baggage of a nation that already expects so much?
As the Three Lions prepare to face the Germans on Tuesday, so much of the talk has been of yesteryear, of revenge, of the rivalry and *that* penalty, but for this group of England players they shouldn’t have to worry about what’s happened before.
Because, for starters, this ‘rivalry’ is pretty one-sided anyway…
England v Germany has plenty of historical connotations, of course. But while the English consider their next opponents as one of their biggest rivals, it’s not really a feeling that’s reciprocated – Oliver Bierhoff's 1996 winner lives longer in the memory than the semi-final shootout, and beating the Netherlands is much more important than a win over the English.
“For us as players, we don’t really tend to think too much about the history,” said Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson when asked about the game. “It’s about the here and now.”
And he’s right, of course. A total of 12 England players weren’t born when Euro 96 took place, and a chunk of them won’t even properly remember the 2010 Frank Lampard over-the-line debacle. All the games since then have been friendlies.
“We’re focusing on the challenge ahead,” Henderson went on to say. “What Germany are good at, the areas we can exploit, what we can do to hurt them, all of the things we can actually focus on and then do in the game. That’s all our energy goes into. We don’t get too caught up on the history and what has happened previously.”
Which is exactly the way they should be going about things, isn’t it? There are a lot of old wounds for England fans when it comes to Germany, especially in the years that have followed the 1966 win, but there are no scars on this group of players, so why should they get the baggage of it all?
Since the seemingly inevitable confirmation of England v Germany at Wembley in a European Championship knockout game, all the talk has been about revenge, and the players have continually been asked about what this fixture means to them.
Chances are though, it’ll mean no more or no less than if they’d been pitted against Portugal or Hungary. This group of players wants to progress in the Euros, and will just want to beat whoever gets put in front of them.
Whether they can do that or not should come down to their ability on the field, and not whether they’re able to tunnel through the minefield of narrative that seems to surround it. Because I can’t imagine that the German players are having to deal with any of that.
For them it’s just a game of football, at a great stadium. An occasion to be enjoyed. Maybe these young England lads should be allowed the same luxury.