KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Win or lose in Saturday’s third-place play-off against Belgium in St Petersburg and the story manager Gareth Southgate and his England team take home from Russia will be exactly the same.
England did not fly to Russia expecting to reach the last four or even to reach the quarter-finals so, once they walked out to face Croatia for what ended as a 2-1 extra-time defeat, was a bonus.
The success of Southgate’s team must help the Football Association in raising the value of sponsorship and other commercial opportunities. That is money which can be channelled back into the development of the grassroots game which can reap further rewards back out in the pitch in 10 or 15 years’ time.
It might also persuade the FA to think again about whether to go through with the proposed sale of Wembley to the Pakistani-American billionaire and business tycoon Shahid Khan.
The owner of promoted Premier League newcomers Fulham and NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars had offered £900m which the FA saw as a means of raising more money for development. However England’s World Cup success may prompt a pause for a re-evaluation of the FA’s development strategy and projected revenues.
England are already the holders of the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups so the changes introduced over the past 10 years along with the creation of the St George’s Park training centre in the Midlands are proving effective. The FA is clearly on the right road in terms of grassroots and youth development.
The clubs, as Southgate has acknowledged, have also contributed with their own significant investments in their academies.
However the greatest gain already now achieved is in the psyche of the English game. Repeated failures in the finals of major tournaments had led to a lack of confidence and pride in the nation’s football and may even have contributed to the big clubs’ lack of trust in young English footballers.
This may even reduce concerns about any reduction in Premier League quality once the UK has abandoned the EU and its free-movement laws. The likes of Jordan Pickford, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Jessie Lingard, Dele Alli and Harry Kane have proved that England is still capable of producing young footballers capable of ranking up with the world’s best.