The last Champions League final I presented on television was in 2014. Real Madrid, a team of superstars, played Atlético Madrid, a team of marginally less super superstars. Atlético scored in the first half and still led 1-0 going into injury time at the end of the game.
Our verdict was that this showed how a team of “galácticos” were no match for the lesser stars with all their guile, energy, desire and collective endeavour. David 1, Goliath 0.
We were ready to roll with this narrative, complete with supporting video evidence, and so on. Ma, inconveniently for us, Goliath equalised in the third minute of injury time. Our narrative was on hold. Real scored thrice more in extra time to win the match 4-1.
The original narrative had to be torn up, and a new one constructed, essentially saying that a team of lesser stars, for all their guile, energy, desire and collective endeavour, were never going to be a match for mighty moneybags Real Madrid. One goal, that equaliser, had changed the entire story. The cause had been rewritten to explain the effect. That’s football for you.
Soon, maybe by the time you are reading this, you’ll know whether England won or lost against Denmark to reach the final of Euro 2020. As I write, I don’t have this information. What I do know is there will be one of two distinct narratives in play. Please pick the one appropriate to the outcome.
Option one: England triumph. Gareth Southgate is a lovely man, and a footballing genius, and so are most of his squad. All the brilliant work that the Football Association has put in behind the scenes over the past decade has finally paid off.
Option two: England don’t triumph. Gareth Southgate is a lovely man, and has been great for the game, but has been found wanting in the key matches. We need someone else to take us to the next level. The players aren’t as great as they think they are, and who knows what the FA has been playing at over the past decade.
One goal or one miss or one fluffed penalty or one terrible refereeing decision could be all it takes to change everything. Good luck, Gareth. In my book you’ll be no more or less the best man after the game than you were before it.