London, United Kingdom | AFP | Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is relishing his return to the England squad after realising how much the national team mean to their fans during his injury lay-off.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has missed England’s last three appearances at major tournaments through injury, but he is finally fit and has been named in the squad for Saturday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria and next week’s clash against Kosovo.
The Liverpool midfielder would dearly love to feature if England qualify for next year’s European Championships, because his time on the sidelines gave him a fresh perspective of how the nation lives and breathes Three Lions campaigns.
When Gareth Southgate’s team went to Russia for their run to the World Cup semi-finals last year, he was ruled out by a serious knee injury.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t turn his back on the side and watched one of their matches against Belgium from a Boxpark bar in east London.
Attempting to go undercover in glasses and a hat, Oxlade-Chamberlain was quickly recognised but he embraced the moment and the fans’ passion.
“That was the first time I’ve ever watched a match with fans of my team, if that makes sense,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told reporters at England’s training base.
“I’m either always in the stadium or at home. I was shocked.
I’ve never been to a pub where there’s a bunch of Liverpool fans or Arsenal fans and watched it with them, never been to a pub with England fans to see what it means to them and it was surreal.
“I could see my mates on the screen doing what I usually do and how everyone around them was reacting. I was almost idolising them as well. Just seeing what they were doing and what that created around me I was like, ‘Oh my God, do I really do that?’
“What it created was special. To see that first hand, in that environment, wasn’t what I expected. It was a moment where I realised – I can’t swear – I’ve missed out on something big here. Seeing what it meant to people.
“People rushing in from work with their shirts and ties on, it was like the whole nation was watching. I met a couple of doctors there, a couple of boys from the city, a couple of plumbers; all came into Boxpark.
“It was just mayhem and meant so much to everyone. I’d never seen that first hand, so it was really special and a reminder of what it means to play for England and how special that is.”
– ‘Written in the stars’ –
Southgate’s men are firmly favoured to reach Euro 2020 after winning their opening two qualifiers and Oxlade-Chamberlain admits he is already dreaming of playing in the event, which will be staged in a host of countries across Europe including England.
“That would be great. I think the boys did themselves proud to create the environment where people have more belief and more of a connection with this young set of players,” he said.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has made two starts for Liverpool this season, the 26-year-old showing signs he is finally back to his best after damaging cruciate and medial knee ligaments in a 2018 Champions League semi-final victory over Roma.
His fitness issues have robbed him off two Champions League final appearances with Liverpool, but helping England win Euro 2020 would make amends.
“I think it’s written in the stars for me to score the winner at Euro 2020,” he said with a smile.
“I guess I have been unlucky with the timings of my injuries but I have been lucky enough to play 32 times for England and looking at the squad now I am one of the longest-serving players.
“Both Arsenal and Liverpool have given me a platform to play for England, so I consider that lucky too.
“The timing of the injuries was unlucky but boys have injuries that stop them playing full stop. I have had the opportunity to come back.”