The mere fact that UEFA Euro 2020 is set to be played in 2021 could have been enough of a surprise to the footballing world a little over a year ago, but many would have hardly believed you if you broke the news back then of the squads which would be going to the Euros.
There have been some major surprises and plot twists in the squad announcements already, leaving us wondering how many more shocks we could be in for after a ball is actually kicked. Some of the major talking points for the tournament emanate from the squad announcements of Spain, France and England
Spain Snubs Real Madrid
It is difficult to believe that Spain head coach Luis Enrique once spent five years at Real Madrid between 1991 and 1996. He did little to endear himself to a fanbase who had already probably turned against him by declining to name a single Real Madrid player in his squad for Euro 2020.
After his stint at Real Madrid as a player, Enrique joined Barcelona, where he spent the next eight years. He later managed Barcelona B from 2008 to 2011 and the first team from 2014 to 2017, winning the club’s second treble.
“Every time I see myself in stickers or on the television, I think I look weird in white,” he said of his time at Real Madrid after it finished, according to ESPN. “I recognise myself in white. I think blue-and-claret suits me better.”
Enrique was reportedly unhappy with the way he was treated by Real Madrid fans during his time at Los Blancos and enjoyed succeeding against them in Barcelona colours.
Among those snubbed from his Euro 2020 squad were Nacho, Marco Asensio, and perhaps most surprisingly, veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos.
England Defer Right-Back Decision
Gareth Southgate was expected to disappoint at least one of England’s many top right-backs with his Euro 2020 squad announcement, but ultimately deferred that decision by selecting Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker.
Alexander-Arnold was omitted from a recent England squad, so it is unlikely that Southgate will start him despite his impressive form in recent seasons for Liverpool.
James is fresh off winning the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, so he appears to be the most likely option for a starting berth.
“We went through this last week. Yes, we have four players who sometimes play at right-back for their clubs. Kieran is here, he’s been playing at wing-back as well as right-back,” Southgate said in defence of his decision to select four right-backs.
“Reece James has played the right of a three or right wing-back. Trent plays right-back. And Kyle Walker for us at centre half as a three and at left-back during a match for us against Denmark.
“Reece James was in midfield against Aston Villa. Basically, they are in our best 26 footballers and that’s why they are in the squad. If I could have picked a fifth or sixth right back I would have done.”
Benzema Back In The Fold For France
Karim Benzema has been recalled by Didier Deschamps after being omitted from the French national team for nearly six years since his last appearance in October 2015. His role in an alleged blackmail attempt on former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape was at the heart of his isolation from Les Bleus.
Benzema has not helped his cause with inflammatory comments since, with FFF president Noël Le Graët and Deschamps both subjects of his intense criticism and even Olivier Giroud getting caught in the crossfire when Benzema compared his own abilities to those of the Chelsea striker.
Benzema’s recall to the national team was unexpected, given that Deschamps has rarely made room in his squad for players who he feared might disrupt the unity of the dressing room. Samir Nasri was a case in point and one could argue that Hatem Ben Arfa was too.
Even more bizarre was the timing of Benzema’s recall. He is set to stand trial for his alleged complicity in the blackmail of Valbuena in October. All the Real Madrid striker can hope is that his football will do the talking and that he can add to his 27 international goals in 81 appearances.
Aymeric Laporte Switches Allegiance
Aymeric Laporte’s somewhat opportunistic switch from France to Spain means that despite having been called up to France squads in the past, he will represent Luis Enrique’s side at Euro 2020. Laporte getting in the squad ahead of Ramos is a major surprise. However, Didier Deschamps does not appear to be fuming, judging by his reaction to the Manchester City defender’s decision.
“He has that freedom, from the moment where he has not played with us. He could not have had that, 10 seconds with France would have been enough… He was always on the shortlists, but there was competition too. I don’t take a player with the purpose of blocking him from having his second choice. I was not going to block him,” Deschamps said in an interview distributed to several members of the French media, according to Get French Football News.
However, not all is rosy between Deschamps and Laporte, with the 2018 World Cup-winning coach effectively accusing the centre-back of lying about their exchanges.
“Aside from that, what annoys me, is what has been said which is a lie (Laporte claimed to have sent Didier Deschamps a message but says he never got a response),” he said.
“The only message I got from him, comes from October, for a situation that was specific where he was injured in September, he was no longer on the shortlist. He was in the ones in November and March and in this one too. It is not a mistake, it is a decision. I wish him the best. That is part of his freedoms.”