Your 'Sheffield United' guide to Euro 2020
With the Republic of Ireland failing to qualify, Aaron Ramsdale just missing the cut and an injured toe ruling Oli McBurnie out of the entire tournament, Sheffield United’s interest in Euro 2020 - or should that be 2021? - is admittedly limited.
But there Scotland’s John Fleck and Rhys Norrington-Davies of Wales are preparing to fly the flag for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side against some of the greatest players and most powerful teams gracing the planet at present. Plenty of others set to be involved in one of the greatest sporting shows on Planet Earth have either passed through Bramall Lane at some point in their careers or, in the case of England’s Kyle Walker, turned professional there after progressing through Sheffield United’s youth system.
The Star’s James Shield analyses some of the challenges set to face Fleck and Norrington-Davies during the rescheduled extravaganza and identifies others who are involved with spells in South Yorkshire on their CV’s.
JOHN FLECK: With Scotland drawn alongside England in Group D, the midfielder will find himself involved in one of the most highly-anticipated footballing fixtures this country has witnessed since the Gareth Southgate’s men reached the last four of the World Cup three years ago next week, when Steve Clarke’s squad face their arch-rivals at Wembley.
But before that fixture, on June 18, Fleck and his colleagues meet the Czech Republic in a crucial tie on Monday. Having never progressed into the knockout stages of a major final, Scotland know a win over Jaroslav Silhavy’s men is a must if they are to give themselves the best possible chance of breaking that duck. Particularly as the match takes place in Glasgow, at Hampden Park. They then face Croatia, also on home soil, a week on Tuesday.
Fleck’s attempt to shoehorn himself into Clarke’s starting eleven were dealt a blow earlier this month when he tested positive for Covid-19 - the virus which forced the whole shebang to be postponed last year - before their warm-up games against Holland and Luxembourg. Forced to self isolate at Scotland’s training camp in Spain, the 29-year-old is bound to be slightly undercooked, but will have used the two day break Clarke granted his players ahead of the clash with the Czech’s to try and play catch-up.
With Silhavy favouring a high-pressing, high-energy style, Fleck is likely to start against the Czech’s on the bench. The visitors’ threat at set-pieces - he stands only 1.7m tall - also means Clarke is expected to favour more physically imposing players. However, Fleck’s tenacity could make him a compelling option ahead of the clash with England and against the technically superb Croats, who are the second highest ranked team in the group.
RHYS NORRI NGTON-DAVIES : The tournament could be the young defender’s breakthrough moment, catapulting him to prominence on both the international and domestic stages. Despite winning his first senior cap at the beginning of last season, he has yet to feature in a competitive game for United after completing spells on loan with Barrow, Rochdale, Luton Town and Stoke City. If he gets the nod from Robert Page and performs to his best, Jokanovic could find it difficult to ignore him at the start of next term - particularly as Jack O’Connell’s fitness issues continue.
Drawn in Group A, Wales open their campaign with an awkward game against Switzerland in Baku tomorrow before facing Turkey on Wednesday and then Italy next Sunday.
Unlike Scotland, Page’s men are on the road for all of what they hope will be their opening three games of the tournament, remaining in Azerbaijan for the clash with Senol Gunes’ side before facing Robert Mancini’s men at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
With the Turks arguably the best team to leave Istanbul since the 2002 World Cup - goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir spent most of last summer angling for a move to United - and Italy once again playing with their customary elan, the meeting with the Swiss could be pivotal. They are the second highest ranked team in the group, with Wales in third, although by placing Turkey 29th on their global list, FIFA’s calculations fail to reflect the threat Turkey pose. Norrington-Davies’ mobility could be crucial against Cengiz Under, the Roma forward whose pace makes him a nightmare for any centre-half.
THE OTHERS: Dean Henderson and Kyle Walker, who will be major figures for England, have both represented United in the past. Indeed Walker, who turned professional with United before moving to Tottenham Hotspur and then Manchester City, has openly stated he wants to finish his career there too. Henderson, meanwhile, spent two seasons on loan at Bramall Lane, helping United win promotion from the Championship and then finish ninth in the Premier League, before returning to Manchester United.
Harry Maguire, another graduate of United’s youth academy, also features in Southgate’s squad but his involvement in the competition is in doubt because of injury. Certainly the defender is unlikely to take any part in England’s group matches.
Southgate himself rejected the chance to manage United before David Weir’s appointment in 2013.
Page, the Wales manager, is a former United captain and, still living in Sheffield, regularly attended his old club’s matches before the pandemic. Ethan Ampadu, another one of Page’s call-ups, spent last season on loan at United from Chelsea while David Brooks, who is expected to leave AFC Bournemouth this summer, turned professional in South Yorkshire before heading to the south coast.
John Carver, Clarke’s number two with Scotland, was Gary Speed’s assistant at United and enjoyed a brief spell in caretaker charge when the late, great Welshman decided to take charge of his country in 2010 - departing when Micky Adams took charge on a permanent basis.
HOW IT WORKS: The winners and runners-up from each group will reach the knockout stages, as well as the four best third placed teams.