The Art Of Winning

Throughout her eleven months in charge of England, Sarina Wiegman has returned time and again to one word in her press conferences and her post-match interviews: ruthlessness. Generally, in football, this means taking scoring chances when they come along, and England lived up to that yesterday, with Ella Toone's spectacular running chip and Chloe Kelly's less spectacular, but really quite clever, rolling of the defender in the six-yard box.
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But there's another kind of ruthlessness that marks out the teams that win from the teams that nearly win. It's the ability to take a game that's almost there and flatten it out. Sit on it. Squeeze it into a non-contest. To take the moments that should be the most nervous and drain all the venom from them. You can call it game management if you want to sound clinical; you can call it faffing around near the corner flag if you want to be dismissive. It's not one of football's higher arts, but when it comes to winning trophies it is one of the most important.
And look at this. Poetry, in pitch map form.
During Euro 2022, some commentators have occasionally stated how refreshing they've found it: here is football apparently without any of the cynicism. No diving! No timewasting! Though doubtless well-meant, it's a double-edged compliment, for behind the praise lurks the implication that this is all somehow less serious. There is a word for football where nobody cheats as a matter of principle, and that word is "amateur".
Either way, we're going to have to retire it now. England's last ten minutes was a perfect display of seriousness, of applied cynicism and of working the clock. Every second spent down by that corner flag did triple duty: time shaved off the clock; another notch of German panic; another decibel into the increasingly feral crowd.
And this, too, is ruthlessness. It is identifying what has to be done, then doing it. Good teams aspire to it, great teams have it. It would be entirely untrue to suggest that England blew Germany away, as they have other sides, but in every crucial moment they found the right answer to whatever question the game threw at them. Toone's brilliance in normal time, Kelly's sharpness in extra-time, and then the whole team together.
Win a throw-in. Win another throw-in. Defend a throw-in. Take a dive, take your time. Reposition the ball for a corner. And again. And again. When they come to cut together the montages of this tournament, almost nothing from that last 10 minutes will make it in. It all, in isolation, looked like nothing much of anything. But when they come to tell the story of this team - which did not end yesterday, but began - then that last period of controlled and applied cynicism, of brain-first anti-football, will take equal standing alongside any and every goal. Good teams win beautiful; good teams win ugly. Great teams do both.

Meanwhile, Over In The Other Game

There isn't really any other news of any importance from yesterday, but it would be remiss of us to let The Return of the King pass without comment. As announced by himself, Cristiano Ronaldo finally began his preseason yesterday, deigning to return to Manchester United's starting eleven for a friendly against Rayo Vallecano.
Less Aragorn, more King John. Or Clambake Elvis. Or one of those Roman lads who didn't make it through the year.
Reading too much into preseason performances is, of course, a mug's game, so we're going to let the particulars of Ronaldo's performance slide. Also, we weren't watching. There was a final on. What a piece of scheduling.
But when it comes to a celebrity footballer like Ronaldo, a player that lives beyond football in the world of branding, what matters is the shape of the story that emerges. So how does "off at half-time, off home before full-time" land? Not to mention "didn't score, replacement scored within two minutes".
After all, this could have been an advert for Ronaldo's qualities. A display that would convince the wavering big clubs of Europe that he's ready to fire them - well, himself, but they can come along if they like - to the Champions League. It could have been a grand gesture of reconciliation: I'm staying! Let's get business done. (I'm stuck here! Let's make the best of it.) But the lack of goals put paid to the first idea, and his early bunk took care of the second, and what we were left with was…
… well, incredibly preseason.
United begin life under Erik ten Hag next week, at home to Brighton. We're not going to speculate as to the legitimacy of Ronaldo's reasons for missing almost all of preseason, but the consequences are that he goes into United's latest revolution with just 45 minutes under his belt, and that in a scratched together side that will almost certainly never play together again.
So there he is, the second-greatest player of his generation: under-conditioned, wanting to leave, and having spent almost no time in training under his new manager. Having gone into preseason looking for a move, Ronaldo has come out of it having given nobody any reason to buy him, and Erik ten Hag almost no reason to pick him. If this is his campaign to win one last Champions League, it couldn't be off to a weirder start.


History made at Wembley means one thing above all other things: content. And this England side, even before they actually won the thing, were natural superstars: charming, funny, born to meme.
Here's Alessia Russo pinching Germany's homework.
Here's Chloe Kelly realising that while it's important to talk to the BBC about how amazing everything is, it's even more important to run off and sing songs with your mates.
And finally, beautifully, here's a little montage of England legend Fara Williams celebrating on the touchline with, well, almost everybody. This was a win that belonged not just to the players out there but to their precursors, to those who went before, opening doors and blazing trails. This is what that looks like.


Staying with the Euros, here's the great Carrie Dunn in the Guardian on what this will do to the women's game, in England and beyond. England, she notes, reached the finals of the first women's Euros back in 1984. "With amateur players and little to no funding, a squad couldn’t just go into camp for a month to train, eat and socialise every day. Instead, the semi-finals and the final had home and away legs, so once the first match was over, each player could head back to her day job for a couple of weeks before playing the deciding fixture."
And now, "This has been the most-watched Women’s Euros in history. It broke the previous record for Women’s Euros in-person attendance way back in the group stages, when a cumulative total of 248,075 fans had already been through the turnstiles after just a few games. To top it off, the 87,192 fans at Wembley on Sunday meant that England v Germany had the highest attendance of any European Championship final – men’s or women’s."


Over at the Athletic, here's Charlotte Harpur on Chloe Kelly, who recovered from a busted ACL ligament to score yesterday's winner and then went all Brandi Chastain in the celebration. Although the Warm-Up's real favourite moment came later, when she returned to complete her interview with a QPR flag. Turns out, she called it: "I said to my family this morning "there’s going to be a Bobby Zamora moment today", and there was."
Someday, somebody is going to put together a huge piece of statistical work to establish just how many jinking wingers got to be who they are because they were trying to avoid getting kicked by a bigger sibling. In the meantime, here's another anecdote for the theory.
"The youngest of seven siblings, there was no doubt Kelly would become extremely competitive. Her five older brothers — Daniel, the oldest, then Jack, followed by triplets Ryan, Jamie and Martin — brought their little sister to play football with their friends in cages in inner-city London. Unable to compete with the boys physically, the Elthorne Park school pupil soon learned to use tricks to get out of trouble."


There's a victory parade in London today. Get yourself to Trafalgar Square, England fans. And then, to complete your day, why not watch Watford vs Sheffield United in the Championship?
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