In the previous installment the curtain came down on my time at Liverpool, with the final record being one to be quite proud of. Three Premier League titles, three Champions League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup came my way – not a bad return for seven seasons of work! However, going into the pre-season of the 18/19 season, I was offered a position I just couldn’t refuse (even though, if memory serves me correctly, I already had refused it once before!).
England had come knocking, following the resignation of Roberto Mancini (yes, that’s right), who had in turn replaced Stuart Pearce (who was manager when the game started in 2011). Pearce had seen England through to winning two consecutive European Championships (yes, somehow, in this game, England were winning things) before resigning, and Mancini… well, he apparently didn’t achieve much of note, resigning after the 2018 World Cup. I took charge at the end of July 2018, keen to see what progress I could make.
There were a number of players in the squad who might be familiar to you now. James Milner was still involved in the team, as was Wayne Rooney, along with the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, and several other names that might actually end up appearing in the 2018 World Cup and beyond – we shall have to see if life imitates fiction. I would go about making tactical changes and would look to pick players based upon merit, rather than reputation, though the talent pool available to me would sometimes restrict my options.
Rooney and Patrick McKay (I told you to remember that name) would be the main strike force of choice, with McKay going on to have a very impressive start to his England career. In 2018 he would score 9 goals in 13 appearances, whilst in 2019 his record was even better, with 17 goals from 10 games. Believe it or not, Tom Cleverley would not play too badly for me, Jack Robinson was very impressive at left-back and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would put in some cracking performances on the right-wing. My England team would qualify for the Euros by winning seven out of eight games, drawing the other fixture, to top the group quite comfortably.
So, it was on to the 2020 European Championships, hosted by Belgium. Drawn in a group featuring Denmark, Holland and Wales, I would actually lose one of the games (I can’t recall which), but I would finish second in the group to be assured of automatic qualification to round 2. Awaiting me were the Spaniards, and I won quite easily, 3-0.
A tight affair followed against Italy, where my England team ran out 1-0 winners, and I followed this up with a 6-0 semi-final victory over Greece – the final would be against France, and this would end up being a 3-0 win for me.
So, in the knockout rounds alone, my team scored 13 goals in 4 games. Overall, they managed 23 goals in 7 games, conceding 5. England had won three consecutive European Championships – quite the achievement!
With one half of the major international trophy collection won, my attention turned to the World Cup – the star prize, and the one outstanding prize left to be won on the game (unless we count the Europa League, and frankly, I don’t). Qualification went well enough, with 10 out of 10 games won, 47 goals scored and only 3 conceded. McKay remained a major scorer of goals – 18 in 13 matches in 2021 – whilst another newbie, Dimos Chailis, contributed 7 goals in 7 games. I was pretty pleased with some of the youngsters coming through the ranks – William Cox in defence, Martyn Bell in goal, Alex Eyre up front, and Trayon Holligan in midfield, and Robbie Barry (an attacking player, but I can’t remember where) were all pushing the established stars, and the performances of the side in the build up to the 2022 World Cup were encouraging.
My very first World Cup game was against the USA, and a 4-3 defeat was not what I had expected, but a 2-0 win over Mali and a 4-0 win over Czech Republic saw me into the knockout rounds, and I would beat Germany 2-1 to set up a quarter-final meeting with Argentina.
It was here that my hopes and dreams were dashed, in that most England of ways – a penalty shootout. Shortly afterward I resigned as England manager, disenchanted with the international scene (at least, for the moment). Some of the players I had brought into the squad would remain there, and two more European Championships would come England’s way (as part of a remarkable sequence of five in a row) – but would there be a World Cup? You’ll have to keep reading if you want to find out.