England failed to bring it home as Italy beat them on penalties in the European Championship final on Sunday. And it is young Bukayo Saka who has been facing all the heat.
After Sancho and Rashford’s miss, Jordan Pickford heroically managed to nullify the shootout process by saving Jorginho’s kick. But in the end, it was 19-year-old Bukayo Saka who failed to convert from the spot.
Naturally, a lot of people have come out to stand beside the Arsenal forward but like any other time, Saka has also been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism. Thankfully, his manager has been quick to defend the youngster revealing that it was his decision of who should take the penalties.
Gareth Southgate said, as per Football London: “That’s my decision to give him that penalty, that’s totally my responsibility.
“It’s not him or Marcus or Jadon, we work together, we work through them in training, that’s the order we came to. That’s my call as a coach.
“We prepared as well as we could for the (penalty shootout), that’s my responsibility, I chose the guys to take the kicks.
“In the end, we weren’t quite able to see the game through in the normal regulation time. It was very tight, Italy showed they’re the outstanding side that they are and why they’re 30 games unbeaten.
“Our players have done themselves proud, every one of them has been exceptional. It’s the first time we’ve got to a final, and we’re unbelievably disappointed not to go that one step further.”
Gareth Southgate or Bukayo Saka: Who to blame?
The manager has obviously tried to take the heat away from Bukayo Saka but maybe Roy Keane has come up with the most sensible argument of all.
The former Manchester United midfielder was working as a pundit on ITV for the final and he has claimed that experienced players like Sterling and Jack Grealish should not have allowed a 19-year-old to take the final penalty in such a crucial final.
“If you’re Sterling or Grealish, you cannot sit there and watch a kid walk up ahead of you, you can’t,” Keane explained on ITV, as quoted.
Give your head a wobble if you're criticising Bukayo Saka at all.
19-years-old and he had the balls to take the decisive penalty in probably the biggest game of his career. pic.twitter.com/qQQNEcgNVc
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) July 11, 2021
“You can’t sit there and go ‘I see a young kid, 19-year-old, a child, walking up in front of me, and I’ve played a lot more games, I’ve got a lot more experience’.
“Sterling, who has won a lot more games, won trophies. Gareth might have been thinking he’s going to be six or seven, you can’t sit there. That must be hard to take, you’ve got to go to this young kid and say I’ll step up before you’.”
It was quite surprising that a lot of the starting players sighed away from taking penalties and the manager chose to bring in Sancho and Rashford for the spot kicks.
Players like Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker were taken off during the dying minutes of extra time despite both of them being perfectly capable of taking penalties.
In the end, most of the blame has fallen on Bukayo Saka and the other two players but as Roy said, the senior pros should have put their hand up instead of letting their manager send a 19-year-old to take the final kick.