Things at Euro 2020 have lined up quite nicely for England. The Three Lions didn't exactly overwhelm in the group stage, but they topped their quartet without conceding a goal, playing all three games at the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium. They won't have to travel for the round of 16, either, welcoming a German team that is as dangerous going forward as it is vulnerable in the back to London. One neutral-venue quarterfinal is all that stands between England—which is on the demonstrably less difficult half of the bracket—and it becoming the de facto host of the pan-UEFA competition, with the semifinals and final all taking place at Wembley.
So, yeah, things are lining up nicely. Almost too nicely. Surely, it can't Come Home that easily.
Enter the off-field wild card: Transfer drama. Multiple reports Friday have indicated that Aston Villa star Jack Grealish, the People's Choice for Gareth Southgate's starting XI, is the center of a British-record, £100 million ($139 million) bid from Manchester City all while Jadon Sancho, the People's Choice for The Player Southgate Needs to Play More, appears to be inching closer to an inevitable move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United.
That in and of itself isn't totally unsettling for the team, but consider the knock-on effects, especially of the Grealish situation. Harry Kane, who has expressed his desire to leave Tottenham and has Man City as his most likely suitor, could now be left wondering how this impacts his future possibilities. He has struggled enough as is at the Euros, not yet approaching the form that made him the Premier League's leading scorer and assist man. Are there two nine-figure bids in Man City's plans this summer? There would have to be if the reigning English champion is to act for both Grealish (who had a modest total of six goals and 10 assists in the Premier League last season, albeit in just 26 games, and whose value goes beyond the traditional stats) and Kane. Raheem Sterling, scorer of both of England's goals in the competition, would surely figure to be the odd man out at Man City (he already had been trending that way given his downtick in usage toward the end of last season), with his immediate club future potentially thrown into disarray should Grealish be brought aboard.
These players are professionals. They have their eye on getting England to a first European final and winning a title for their country. Transfer rumors and tabloid headlines swirl around them regularly, so in some respects nothing about this is out of the ordinary. But the issue of focus at a time when it's needed the most has to be a factor. England's tournament history vs. Germany since the 1966 World Cup final isn't exactly littered with successes (Southgate knows that better than anyone after his decisive penalty miss in the Euro 96 semifinals), and the players most likely to unlock what's been a very susceptible German defense are at the heart of these ill-timed transfer headlines.
There's no such thing as a pushover in the knockout stage of any competition, but England would fancy itself a favorite over any of the other six sides on its half of the bracket (Sweden, Ukraine, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Denmark, Wales). In order to get to find out, though, it'll take a win over Germany, and to beat Germany, it needs to not have its players with one eye on their transfer futures. Even if this is all being driven by the club and agent sides, which is so often the case, you can't help but wonder if it serves as a distraction in the days leading up to their last-16 showdown.
"For the players, we've just got to stay focused and make sure we just give everything on the pitch and have no regrets," said Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, when discussing the rich history between the two nations in his prematch remarks.
He may have not been addressing anything specific—not a transfer rumor or not the COVID-19 protocol breach that caused Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell to be isolated for 10 days and miss the group finale vs. the Czech Republic—but it's a general message from one of England's leaders. Not for the first time, England's biggest hurdle to reaching its goal may indeed be itself.
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