Euro 2020 final preview: New Burnley first team coach Steve Stone hoping former team-mate Gareth Southgate can exorcise the ghosts of England's past!

New Burnley first-team coach Steve Stone is praying that ex-team-mate Gareth Southgate can lay England's demons to rest.

By Dan Black
Saturday, 10th July 2021, 7:30 am
Steve Stone of England celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the England v Portugal International friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London, in December 1995.
Steve Stone of England celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the England v Portugal International friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London, in December 1995.

Italia '90, Euro '96, Russia 2018. Three semi-final appearances at major tournaments, three defeats, two via penalty shoot-outs.

The Three Lions have gone one better this time after overturning their first and only deficit at Euro 2020 to beat the Danes at Wembley.

But Stone, who was a part of Terry Venables' squad alongside Southgate 25 years ago, is fearful that the nation's past failures in tournaments will continue to be dragged up if Sunday's final against Italy doesn't end in success.

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Gareth Southgate and Steve Stone of Aston Villa celebrate during the Worthington Cup Quarter Final Re-match against West Ham played at Upton Park in London. Aston Villa progress to the semi final after a 3-1 extra time win.

"He's got it spot on so far," said Stone. "He's got everything right and I think it's just important that we all get behind Gareth and the team at the weekend. We need to put all those semi-final losses - three of them - to bed.

"We need to stop talking about Euro 96, Italia 90. We now need to start talking about an England team that's won a final. I really hope that happens on Sunday.

"I think it is a huge task, Italy are so good defensively, I think they'll sit back, England will have a lot of the ball, we'll struggle to break them down at times, but we've got to stay patient with our game-plan.

"I think we have to keep the ball, manipulate it, work the wide areas, avoid just putting long balls in because I think the two centre-backs will soak that up. They've been tremendous.

Burnley's new first team coach Steve Stone.

"I think Italy will try to hit us on the counter attack. That's exactly what they tried to do against Spain, who had a lot of the ball. I can't call it, but I'm desperate for England to win."

Southgate, who played alongside Stone for three seasons at Aston Villa, has already gone some way to making peace with his own painful past.

The England manager - a regular visitor to Turf Moor over recent campaigns - has been focused on exorcising those ghosts and eliminating what he has described as the 'slow death' of some of the nation's evictions in past competitions.

He's now one step away from altering the narrative, from landing England's first major trophy since 1966, their first at the European Championships, and from ensuring that the reels of previous missed penalties - including those from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle in Turin - are banished to antiquated archive rooms.

Gareth Southgate, Head Coach of England celebrates their side's victory after the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on July 07, 2021 in London, England.

Southgate's approach throughout this process has been critiqued and scrutinised exorbitantly. But Stone, who featured from the bench on three occasions during Euro 96, believes the former Middlesbrough boss' decision-making has been vindicated.

"Gareth has done a great job as England manager under huge pressure. He's done an incredible job. As a manager you make those 'unpopular' decisions on a daily and weekly basis.

"But when you're the manager of England your every decision is getting scrutinised. For Gareth to have been so calm, amid all that scrutiny, is incredible. He doesn't look like he's panicked one little bit.

"He's been strong in his character; he's been taking some stick right from the start, playing different right backs, playing two holding midfield players, not being adventurous.

"He's been strong when everybody else has been clamouring for different options and that's proven he's a good manager. He's got it spot on so far."

Stone added: "I played with Gareth [Southgate] for many years at Aston Villa and I played with him at Euro 96 and the games running up to that. Gareth's detail has been brilliant all the way through.

"He was probably underestimated by fans when he played and I think he had been underestimated as a manager. I don't think they think that now. I think they're all thinking that Gareth has done an incredible job.

"The stability that he's brought to that England team, the camaraderie, you can see the togetherness, it's not an easy thing to do. He's done a great job.

"When I played with Gareth I thought he read the game really well, he was an intelligent footballer and I didn't underestimate him one little bit.

"He was a top player and I can understand why he was in the England team for many years. As a manager I didn't underestimate him either; he's gone on to do exactly what I thought he would do."