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Gareth Southgate might have finally found his replacement for Kalvin Phillips

FROM SIGNAL IDUNA PARK – Delirium in Dortmund about sums it up. Ollie Watkins’ sensational winner on the cusp of injury time has fired England into a second consecutive European Championship final.

A 2-1 win over the Netherlands sends England to Berlin to play hands down the best team at Euro 2024, Spain. They’ve already dispatched of hosts Germany and favourites France in the knockout rounds, and dominated current holders Italy in the group stages. England have their biggest task ahead of them but a newly-developed knack of getting the job done. You never know.

Gareth Southgate has plenty to celebrate. But these moments are fleeting – the England manager has spent most of the last month having to bat away criticism for poor performances, while carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders. The usual thing for someone in his position at a major tournament, y’know, and far more in keeping than this ‘making finals’ stuff.

It feels an era ago today, but just a few short weeks ago Southgate was showing signs of crumbling under the pressure. He turned up to discuss his team’s performance in a 1-1 draw against Denmark – a game in which England were largely outplayed – and ended up speaking about his midfield conundrum.

“We know it’s an experiment. We know we don’t have a natural replacement for Kalvin Phillips,” Southgate said, to national rage and desperation. The clip below sums up the situation nicely.

Southgate started the tournament with Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold taking the third spot in central midfield, alongside shoo-ins Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham. The balance was off and he rotated through Conor Gallagher, who shuffled around a bit. Both very good players in their own right, but clearly not what Southgate was seeking for his midfield to control big moments in big games, like they’re doing now.

With Southgate in auto-pilot while dropping the “natural replacement for Phillips” line, perhaps scared to act and put his faith in a 19-year-old kid sitting on his bench, the case soon became that if he didn’t, his spell in charge of his country, a largely successful one without the riveting football or trophies to show for it (to date, Sunday is England’s biggest moment) would slip through his fingers.

But that 19-year-old kid we’re talking about? That’s no ordinary 19-year-old kid.

That’s Kobbie Mainoo.

Perhaps Southgate was right, though. Mainoo is not a natural replacement for Phillips. He’s so much more.

And Manchester United’s latest academy star is taking absolutely no time in his short career to date to show it, no matter the level, no matter the occasion. It’s been a rollercoaster eight months, but time and again, Mainoo takes it in cruise control.

What Southgate has stumbled on is replacing the Yorkshire Pirlo with the Stockport Seedorf. The two were teammates at Milan, but very different players. And while you’d keep your tongue in cheek most of the time comparing Phillips to the glorious Italian, you can use Mainoo’s Seedorf comparison with authority. You watch Mainoo and believe that this boy is good enough to do what he’s doing now, and better, for the next 15 years.

He’s got everything, and England just simply do not make these types of midfielders. Until now.

Mainoo became the youngest ever player to represent England in the semi-final of an international tournament on Wednesday night, and the third youngest to play for England in a quarter-final last weekend, behind Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. Back then, England only did quarter-finals at a maximum, but not any more.

He’s made a habit over the course of two thirds of his maiden season in senior football of delivering in the moment. Whether it be a crucial goal line clearance in his first Premier League appearance at Everton or waltzing through opponents in Turkey against Galatasaray, one of world football’s most hostile atmospheres, Mainoo is unfazed.

Scoring a worldie against Liverpool in Jurgen Klopp’s final season in charge? Whatever. Or how about scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final against Manchester City and walking away with the player of the match award? All in a day’s work.

This is a player who has broken through into one of the worst Manchester United teams in history and risen above it (nobody does that), brushing the pressure off his shoulders and just doing his thing time after time. Those who’ve watched him closely enough throughout the last few months knew this was the midfield answer Southgate had been looking for. Now the world can see it.

Harry Symeou and Scott Saunders react to England reaching the Euro 2024 final, from Dortmund. Click the link to watch & subscribe to the 90min YouTube channel.

Mainoo’s night against the Netherlands was incredibly impressive. And especially in the first half, England’s finest 45 in Germany so far. Mainoo was everywhere, on and off the ball. Tracking back to make crucial interceptions is his game, and so is the anticipation to cut out passes to maintain attacks. But he’s so incredibly gifted that these qualities almost go under the radar.

When you watch Mainoo in possession, you see a natural. He glides. He carries. He plays with his head up and drives into spaces. He can thread passes through the finest alleys and pop it around the corner. His range of passing, long or short, it’s all there. And he’s already shown he’s got the goal threat to carry with him, something we’ll see aplenty in the years to come.

But none of these are Mainoo’s most impressive traits. Kobbie Mainoo is not fazed. By anything, by the looks of it. Every moment he’s been dropped into in his short career so far, Mainoo has got the ball and played his game. Taken it off an opponent, and played his game.

The biggest game of his career is approaching. The biggest game in all of these England players’ careers. From what we’ve seen in his short career so far, you can bet your bottom dollar Kobbie Mainoo is going to deliver.


#Gareth #Southgate #finally #replacement #Kalvin #Phillips

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