What do Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ademola Lookman and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have in common?
All are, encouragingly, yet to reach their prime. All have represented England at some level, with five of the seven already full internationals and Wan-Bissaka an injury to Kyle Walker and/or Kieran Trippier away from joining them.
Crucially, all are the type of player who make you want to tune into an England game during the international break. Long gone are the days of Stewart Downing’s 29th drop of the shoulder being the highlight of an England match.
This is where another common identity comes in. Sancho, Sterling, Alli, Lingard, Rashford, Lookman and Wan-Bissaka are all scholars at the School of Ronaldinho.
As much as the cages of south London, fields of Manchester and various academies have played their part, England’s Generation Flair owes plenty to the genius of Ronaldinho.
Well, Ronaldinho and YouTube.
Let’s start with Sancho, the 18-year-old responsible for ensuring that Harry Maguire will suffer with dodgy ankles in later life.
Sancho’s ability to repeatedly leave the best defenders in world football bashfully searching for their dignity is, in part, down to a childhood spent studying Ronaldinho.
In an interview with DAZN, he explained: “My role model was Ronaldinho. The reason behind that is how he just beat people with ease and did things that no one else was doing at his time. That’s why it was him.”
Sancho’s fellow winger Sterling also counts Ronaldinho amongst his early idols, to the extent that the Brazilian’s face adorned his first ever shirt.
“It wasn’t a team shirt it was a Ronaldinho shirt with his face all over it. Then I had to get the Brazil number ten with Ronaldinho on the back,” Sterling explained to Man City’s official website.
Lingard used an interview with Man United’s official website to discuss watching ‘clips of Ronaldinho’ growing up while Alli, a player who values nutmegs over goals, selected the Brazilian in his perfect 5-a-side team.
Rashford hailed Ronaldinho as ‘the king’ when the pair met and told CNN: “I think watching the Brazil team with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and those type of players was one of my favorite experiences.”
Everton winger Lookman, who has captured the imagination during his nine England Under-21 caps, spoke about growing up idolising Ronaldinho in his first ever newspaper interview with the South London Press.
But Ronaldinho’s influence isn’t just evident in England’s attacking talent. Crystal Palace right-back Wan-Bissaka told the Guardian: “I loved watching Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho expressing themselves, so that’s what I copied.”
That Wan Bissaka is currently Europe’s top tackling defender owes much to his capacity to second-guess the attacker’s intentions. Once you’ve decoded Ronaldinho’s game, the rest comes easy.
Watching the ease with which Callum Hudson-Odoi, Phil Foden, Ryan Sessegnon, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Reiss Nelson and James Maddison conduct themselves technically on a football pitch, it’s easy to spot Ronaldinho’s fingerprints all over England’s modern DNA.
Having single-handedly ruined our World Cup hopes in 2002, it’s only right that Ronaldinho has some part to play in ending 54 years of hurt in 2020.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the carnival of football on show every time England take to the pitch.
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