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It’s coming home. It should come home. After all, the England vs Italy final will practically be played at home. Where else will it go, the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh fans have lost count of the allegiances they have had to change to avoid it coming home. The whole of Europe is irate. The whole football world is up in arms.
Coming home will be a travesty and a victory for a villain. But this victory will be well deserved. The Three Lions are the envy of world football and with good reason. With Belgium and France out of the competition, they are the most complete side in European football. Take away Gareth Southgate’s selection antics, and there is no team with more talent than the English.
It is a complex bunch of players. They boast of UEFA Champions League winners and the Premier League victors. Childhood friends playing in the national team. A young man on a mission to tackle food issues of the forgotten. Players who had to leave England to realize their full potential. A man who was once vilified for buying his mother a home. And they are all led by a once lanky forward who was released as a youngster by Arsenal and deemed not good enough to be a top-flight player.
This is a well-drilled side that has seen its fair share of hardships and coming through at the second grandest stage of world football. The European Championships. It is difficult to point one player out over the others. They are all at the pinnacle of their powers and rated amongst the best in the trade. Surely, there has to someone who stands out from the crowd. If one has to boil down this squad to who is the best, two names are on everyone’s list. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.
But who is the best amongst the two? Here are the arguments for both stars who might be playing together
England came close to the 2018 FIFA World Cup trophy but saw their efforts undone by Croatia. A lot of factors combined to get them there but one that stood out was the form of Harry Kane. The captain bagged goals for fun as the Three Lions steamrolled past one rival after another. He would be crowned the Golden Boot winner, becoming the second English player to bag this award after Gary Lineker.
But that was in the past. And the Tottenham forward took his time getting starting in the current campaign. His first three outings of Euro 2020 were underwhelming, to say the least and so were England. The chants of its coming home were still there but with the captain and talisman not performing, the sharpness in the tongues was missing.
Croatia looked like a spent force but England did not look any better. The Three Lions made out of the group stages on their knees. And then came the big test against traditional rivals Germany. It was time for Harry Kane to get himself accounted for and accounted for he did. After another tireless outing on the field, he managed to get on the scoreboard in the 86th minute. The Three Lions dispatched off the Die Mannschaft and bring down the curtain on Joachim Löw’s reign as manager. The floodgates would open after this outing. He would score a brace in the 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine, following it up with an extra-time goal against Denmark to seal their place in the final.
As a forward, goals are what define Kane but they are not everything that makes him England’s best player. He is more than the sum of his goals. Alongside Harry Maguire and Raheem Sterling, he is one of the few experienced players in the squad. He wears the armband with gusto and is always lively on the pitch. Kane combines skill, experience, leadership, gusto and work ethic that are essential to any budding team.
Despite his performances, Raheem Sterling has been the villain in this England side for quite some time. Perhaps it is the manner in which he deserted Liverpool in favour of Manchester City that alienated the fans. Or more realistically, it is his media portrayal that has been negative for quite some time. Or perhaps it is some other reason that continues to keep him off the good graces of the English fans.
Nevertheless, it has not stopped him from delivering match-winning performances when the Three Lions have needed them the most. It was his goals that got England past the group stages. Had he not capitalized on Kalvin Phillips clever pass to score the only goal of the match against Croatia, Southgate’s men would have found themselves at the mercy of their rivals. He was at it again against the Czech Republic, again scoring the only goal of the fixture. And when Harry Kane got his first goal of the tournament, it was Sterling who has opened the proceedings to avoid England the blushes. In the next match, the Manchester City attacker provided the assist for his captain’s first goal.
But his most important contribution came in the extra time of the semi-finals against Denmark. It was Sterling who earned the crucial penalty kick from whom Kane scored on the rebound. He has been derided for the manner in which it was earned. A clear dive for many but the VAR check found no issues with it. As the whole country rejoiced, the villain for the football fraternity delivered.
If England wins the 2020 European Championships, there will be no contest on who their best player was. Perhaps it is poetic justice that the most vilified member of the starting eleven gets a big trophy back home. How he earned the penalty will have significance too. These wildcard events define competitions, and Sterling has provided it for the Three Lions.
It is not a mark on Harry Kane. The captain has delivered for England but he is not his usual self in the competition. Perhaps clouds over his club future have curtailed his performances but it cannot be said that he had no part in the road to the final at Wembley.
For Raheem Sterling, the statement is different. His name is written all over England’s trajectory to the finals. He has continued his club form with Manchester City with the national team setup and delivered when it mattered the most. It is a fact that had he not been there, England would not have made it out of the group stages, let alone make it to the finals. This is why he is the best player of the Three Lions.