Euro fever is sweeping over England as they head into the UEFA European Football Championship 2020 with high expectations. Part of the heightened hopes has to do with the semi-final and final, both being hosted on home soil, which they hope means football is coming home.
The last major international tournament held in England was Euro 1996, a competition revered fondly in the hearts of those who remember watching it unfold. That team captured the hopes and dreams of a nation, propelled to the semi-final by two Geordies.
The all-time Premier League top goalscorer was at his pomp during Euro 96. He came off a season where Blackburn Rovers failed to defend their Premier League crown, but the player himself was in scintillating form, winning the golden boot with 31 goals in the league. He carried that form into the Euros and repeated the feat with five goals in the tournament.
Shearer was the epitome of a classic number nine. He got goals any way possible and led the line for England admirably. His goal in the semi-final against Germany fully encapsulates this; a corner flies in, met with a loose header when Shearer anticipates it quickest and launches his head at it, firing it into the back of the net.
The present-day squad can draw on some similarities in their teams. It is most prevalent in comparing Alan Shearer to Harry Kane. Both can lead frontlines by themselves and are goal poachers, boasting a plethora of high-scoring seasons. Kane will be looked upon in Euro 2020 to supply the goals, just like he did at the 2018 World Cup, where he finished with the golden boot.
Kane, of course, is a bit more creative than Shearer was and can drop deep to ping a pass. Adaptive qualities like that have people feeling this England squad is their best chance of winning the Euros since 1996. In fact, it isn’t just England fans that thinking they can win it all, but bookmakers too. Euro 2020 betting odds have England favoured to win outright at 9/2, followed closely by France at 5/1. It would be difficult to find a time England went into a major tournament as the favourites, making it seem like it could finally be their year.
When speaking of comparisons, there is nobody quite like Paul Gascoigne. The Gateshead lad, affectionately known as Gazza, went through a renaissance year in 1996. Having made his transfer from Lazio to Glasgow Rangers, he immediately had an impact, helping them win the league title. They won the title in the penultimate game of the season, where he scored a hat-trick.
If the Scots loved him then, it would be short-lived, as he scored against them in the group stages of Euro 96. His infamous dentist chair celebration is almost as iconic as the goal itself. He was at his mercurial best all tournament and nearly had England in their first final since 1966. He was beloved by the fans for his fallibility as much as his talent. There may be talented players in the current team, but there will never be another Gazza.
In terms of matching the sheer creativity that Gazza brought to the table, perhaps only one-time Toon target Jack Grealish can stake a claim. The midfielder had 10 assists in the Premier League before the end of February and that, coupled with his six goals, was a big part of why Aston Villa finished just outside the league’s top 10. He may not be as unpredictable as the legendary Paul Gascoigne but he certainly will get bums off seats.
This tournament may bring the same sense of joy and hopefulness that the squad of 96 brought. The current team can go one better and reach the final, if not win the whole thing. However, finding two Geordies that will lead an England squad to a major tournament semi-final might be a few years down the line; if we ever see it again, that is.