Sunday People

IT’S A LOVE Three cheers for the Three Lions midfield musketeers. They’ve given scope to our strikers and hope to the nation for 2024

- Football’s ultimate maverick sounds off

SEEING Declan Rice ram his critics’ words down their throats on Thursday was almost – almost – as enjoyable as watching England record their first win against Italy in Italy for 62 years.

Let’s have the achievemen­t of the latter right: the last time it happened, Tottenham won the Double, Songs of Praise aired for the first time and JFK was inaugurate­d as President of the United States.

So while we can argue the toss about the second-half performanc­e, and we will later, when you have a team that can go somewhere and win for the first time in more than six decades, especially when that somewhere happens to be a country which has won the World Cup four times and is home to the current European champions, then that’s a very, very good sign.

As for Rice, I was thrilled that he scored the first goal in the Three Lions’ 2-1 win after the recent criticisms, led by Graeme Souness, that he doesn’t score enough goals.

He’s a defensive midfielder for crying out loud, scoring goals isn’t his job, so that was a massive two fingers up to all those who’ve derided him.

The triumvirat­e Rice formed in midfield with Kalvin Phillips and Jude Bellingham was excellent and, as some wag tweeted, it heralded the creation of the best triangle since Toblerone was launched in 1908.

I’ve talked about England’s need for a centre-spot-topenalty-spot midfielder for ages now, someone who can create, break up play and weigh in with goals, someone who can be a mixture of Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne.

And having those two native sitters in Rice and Phillips means we can legitimate­ly say to Bellingham, ‘Now go and do your thing and be that man’.

Comparison­s with those two might be slightly erroneous but he has the talent to be what he wants to be. He did the job in the first half but not so much in the second, and that’s where the manager needs to change things and say, ‘OK, we’re under the cosh here, let’s sort that out’.

I’d have liked to have seen Jordan Henderson brought on earlier with his skipper’s mentality.

But I love the idea of Rice, Phillips and Bellingham starting games and if those three kick off England’s opener at the Euro 2024 finals in Germany then I will be very happy.

As some wag tweeted, Rice, Bellingham and Phillips in midfield is the best triangle since Toblerone was launched in 1908


Phillips will be the one who is eventually upgraded but Rice and Bellingham can play together for the next seven or eight years.

That set-up meant that in the first half we got the ball quickly to our wide men instead of playing the sometimes

Manchester United’s takeover battle Let’s hope due diligence on whoever and that will leave a very bitter taste

ponderous possession game we’ve seen in the last 18 months.

It gave so much more scope and enthusiasm to our forwards when they got ball with space to exploit and had defenders back-peddling instead of being settled.

Bukayo Saka impressed in that role in particular. He has taken his game to another level – his decision-making is very good and he’s doing consistent­ly well now the things that weren’t always there in his game before this season.

The confidence of being at the top of the table with Arsenal is translatin­g into his internatio­nal form, and he could well go on and be what Raheem Sterling promised to be.

I mean no disrespect to Sterling because at times he has been very, very good. But Saka can be that consistent wide-man who can come from the left or right and, given he’s only 21, he might not even peak until the World Cup in 2026, which is great news for England.


As for that second half, I do wonder what gets said at half-time because this has been a bit of a pattern when we’ve been ahead and relatively comfortabl­e that we take our foot off the pedal.

Italy needed to come out and respond and that meant England could look to counter, but we didn’t keep the ball anywhere near well enough and our tempo didn’t match theirs.

That said, there’s a reason not many teams go there and win, and if we can beat Ukraine tonight we will cap four very positive days.

took a shambolic twist on Wednesday when the club said bids weren’t submitted on time and bidders said they were. will end up buying the club has been and will be more profession­al. I’m convinced it’s inevitable the Qataris will get it, because clubs of historical importance shouldn’t be owned by states with the record Qatar has.

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