It seems simple in theory. That in football, you win as a team and not as an individual. Fans may remember the unlikely, mazy run or wonder-strike, but those are the exception—and even those rely, in the set-up, on the involvement of teammates.
In the past, though, it’s a point England have often seemed to rather miss, with golden generations and talented individuals failing on the game’s biggest stage not because they were bad so much as because they simply couldn’t function as a team.
“We win as a team,” said Jordan Henderson, speaking to the press ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final against Croatia—the furthest England have been since losing the semi at Italia 90. “It’s down to what we do behind the scenes, what we work on in training.”
That work in training and belief in operating as a team has led to a solid side—perhaps, if one isn’t English and excited by the chance to make it to what would be the country’s first final since 1966, it’s led to a big of a boring side reliant on set pieces.
Yet it’s a side that’s here, in the World Cup semi-final, and favoured to go through and to face off against France in the final on Sunday. It’s a side now carrying England’s best hope of actually winning it all since 1966 when they actually did.
And while that has taken belief—in team over individual, in solid play rather than sought glory, and in hard work in training—that in turn owes an awful lot to the role Henderson, much as he might seek to avoid the limelight, has played.
“I think the quality of his game has reached another level,” manager Gareth Southgate said of Henderson’s role in England’s success. “Jordan is a player that has been underestimated for a long time and has outstanding leadership qualities.”
Now, for England and Southgate and Henderson, there’s a chance to put so much negative history—of England’s past failures and Henderson’s many doubters—to rest. But before that, there’s the small matter of a match. A World Cup semi-final.