Bukayo Saka is living his dream with the most infectious smile at the Euros

One of the enduring images of Euro 2024 might be Gareth Southgate giving Bukayo Saka a bear hug on Saturday. Depending on what happens in the next week it’s a moment that might live forever. The manager wanted to embrace all of his squad after they earnt a place in the semifinals, but it was the Gunner he wanted to carry around the pitch and whisper words into his ear.

Not just because our Star Boy had equalised in a man of the match display. More because both men would have remembered the country’s last shoot-out on these stage 3 years ago. They would have reflected on Southgate cuddling then a teenager also seconds after penalties.

No one would have blamed the player if he never wanted to be involved in another shoot out.

Yet in his own words, the 23-year-old is hopeful that others can learn off his journey. He had disappointment but bounced back.

In truth his smile had been contagious all afternoon, even when Switzerland took the lead.

In what’s been portrayed as doom and gloom by certain pundits, fans and media, England needed that smile to light up their campaign.

In truth the tournament needed it.

Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Belgian teams have all been in conflict with their national press over hysteria.

Kevin De Bruyne ordered his teammates not to acknowledge supporters at full time against Ukraine due to verbal abuse and hand gestures.

Deschamp is being criticised in his homeland despite being in the last two World Cup Finals.

Even one of the greatest to ever live isn’t immune, Ronaldo questioned for crying like it was something he planned.

All the 39-year-old wanted was a classy farewell doing what he loves but the sport couldn’t afford him that.

On the pitch, cups being thrown has become routine. That’s extended to coins and even trainers.

As for England, Mr Southgate has had cups thrown at him, the team booed for topping their group while pundits have clearly frustrated senior members of the team by demanding at various points that Harry Kane, Foden, Bellingham, Walker, Trent, Trippier and Saka all to be dropped, even though they have yet to lose in Germany .

So, in a competition where the obvious names have been slow off the blocks, the favourites are playing conservative tactics and supporters are acting entitled, the biggest reminder this weekend was the human element.

In Düsseldorf, Saka wasn’t a professional who makes thousands of pounds a week.

He was young man living his dream, hence why you couldn’t wipe that grin off his face.

Having already played so many times for Arsenal it’s easy to forget how young he is.

At the last European Championships, he had a penalty saved which meant Italy were Champions. Worse, the events at Wembley saw him subjected to online racial abuse.

That’s why him converting penalty number three this time around shouldn’t quite be compared to Stuart Pearce’s experience.

It’s similar that’s it’s two Englishman missing crucial kicks in one tournament, then having the courage to step up again. No one would blame either if they didn’t.

Mr Pearce’s ordeal though was being mocked while cashing in on a Pizza Hut advert.

Saka, along with Rashford and Sancho were targets due to the colour of their skin.

It’s not quite redemption, because sadly there are still cowards who live on the internet who would be racist had Saka or one of his peers failed yesterday. Those morons won’t see the irony but, unfortunately among the thousands singing Sweet Caroline in the stadium are those who would be racist behind their keyboards and/or throw objects from the stands.

A lot been mentioned about Southgate’s formation, substitutions, approach to the game. The 53 years might have to lift the trophy for some to be given him any credit at all!

Yet at a time when many speak about his limitations, it’s only right that I highlight what he has done better than those before him.

It’s clear players love him. In my lifetime I didn’t grow up many times with my country able to respond in the knockout stages to falling behind. I certainly can’t recall 5 players who approached penalties with the swagger the Three Lions did.

Whether it was Palmer’s record, Bellingham’s arrogance, Toney being told for a year he should be in the group purely for being a penalty expert, Trent’s tournament so far …. everyone had a narrative if it had gone wrong.

Then there was Saka ….

What he had to read a few years ago was so vile I can’t repeat it here, but he’s has fought back in the best way possible.

He wasn’t bullied into shying away from pens.

He wasn’t intimidated into changing.

He didn’t start to fear failure.

He didn’t become bitter.

He didn’t give anyone the satisfaction by displaying hurt or anger.

He’s educated so knew the best course of action.

To never change.

To be himself

The perfect response?

That smile!

That infectious smile!

The smile that lit up the Euros

Dan


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6 Comments

  1. Everyone and his dog has had a say on what Southgate is doing wrong and how he can put things right by listening to me. One thing they forget to mention is how solid England is without the ball, they’re tough to break down but no one is giving them any credit for it. The defenses of England and France deserve credit for helping them get this far

  2. Bukayao Saka has always done his best for England he deserves to be happy and be respected.

    The unfortunate thing is that English fans are not genorous with their commendation of black English player they are rather critical when they make a mistake.

    Weldone to our Arsenal golden Boy.

  3. Excellent article Dan, that I’ve just got to read.
    Absolutely agree with your reply to Sylva, who doesn’t realize he’s doing EXACTLY what your talking about… but in reverse.
    I suggest every parent would love to see their son grow up with the personality and humility that Saka shows – come to that, every daughter as well!!

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