All of that good faith for the Three Lions, all of that hope, all of that (incredibly measured) expectation. All of it was undone at 12.45pm on Sunday when Gareth Southgate named Kieran Trippier at left-back for England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia.
Trippier, one of three right-backs in Southgate’s squad for the tournament, was arguably third choice for that position heading into the competition, only to be promoted to first-choice left-back on Sunday – ahead of Champions League winner Ben Chilwell and in-form Manchester United defender Luke Shaw.
It would be unfair to talk up the qualities of those two players without acknowledging Trippier’s key role in Atletico Madrid’s La Liga title win last season, the fact that the 30-year-old is one of England’s more experienced defenders, and his occasional deployment at left-back in the past.
In his 35 appearances for Atletico in all competitions in 2020/21, however, Trippier was not once stationed on the left. So, fans’ incredulity that he started ahead of Shaw and Chilwell, the latter of whom did not even secure a spot on the bench, was somewhat understandable.
What was important amid the delirium of England supporters, though, was the withholding of any judgement on Southgate’s decision to play Trippier at left-back until full-time.
Southgate deserved that. So did Trippier.
The same approach should have been applied to the England coach’s call on leaving winger Jadon Sancho out of the starting XI and off the bench, and on starting Tyrone Mings at centre-back despite the defender’s concerning showings in last week’s warm-up games.
But never mind your thoughts on those elements of this Group D fixture; with his diligence and energy in this 1-0 win, Trippier justified his starting place, which might have been – in large part – down to his familiarity with Croatia right-back Sime Vrsaljko, who started for the visitors at Wembley Stadium.
At club level, Vrsaljko plays for… that’s correct: Atletico Madrid.
The 29-year-old managed just 10 outings for the Spanish side last season, mainly due to Trippier’s superiority throughout the term.
Few of the England fans criticising the decision to start Trippier at left-back will have been armed with that knowledge, but Southgate was.
As such, the England coach armed himself with a secret weapon on Sunday.
There were momentary lapses in concentration early in the second half, but Trippier’s overall performance was encouraging. As well as defending well against Croatia’s dangerous winger Andrej Kramaric, and showing great vision with a throw-in to set up an early Phil Foden chance that hit the post, Trippier kept Vrsaljko at bay admirably.
Given the presence of that wrinkle in the dynamics of this clash with Croatia, and the absence of that wrinkle in the upcoming meetings with Scotland and the Czech Republic, it is very much possible that Trippier does not start at left-back again over the next month – or however long the former Tottenham defender and his England team-mates last in the competition.
Then again, he might. And next time, the reaction should be much more measured – as it should have been at lunchtime on Sunday.
Southgate has always put great stock in versatility when it comes to selecting his squads and line-ups, and for all the talk of Kyle Walker and Reece James’ multiple talents at right-back, Trippier’s have been overlooked and undersold by fans.
But not by Southgate, the only man whose decisions matter right now.