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How the UK fell in love with Bukayo Saka, England’s ‘starboy’

Three years previously, he, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho were subjected to a torrent of horrific online racial abuse following their missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final which England lost to Italy at Wembley. In the subsequent Premier League season, rival fans chanted at Saka that he had “let your country down”. There was an implicit fear that the same behaviour might be repeated if Saka were to miss again. 

But, despite the weight of this on him — and having every reason to hesitate when Southgate asked him to step up to the plate against Switzerland — Saka showed no sign of nerves. Like England’s four other successful penalties in the match (all taken by players with black heritage), Saka’s goal was effortlessly cool, putting to bed his critics and ending the collective trauma of England’s penalty nightmares. 

Saka taking his penalty against Switzerland during the Euro 2024 quarter-final

Getty Images

“You fail once, but I’m the sort of guy who wants to put myself in that position again,” Saka said in a post-match interview on Saturday (July 6). “It is something I embrace…I kept my cool and scored my penalty.

“I wasn’t focusing on the past — that’s done,” he continued. “I can only focus on now.

“Of course, I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, my family included in the crowd, but I kept my cool and scored.”

The outpouring of affection for England’s star was immediate and intense. Fans instantly took to social media to praise his determination. One supporter wrote: “A moment of redemption. A moment of courage. A moment of ecstasy. Bukayo Saka is HIM.” Another said: “Bukayo Saka man. Equaliser and penalty converted. Nerves of steel after what happened in 2021, that man is deserving of it all.”

Saka receives royal congratulations from Prince William after his performance in the Euro 2024 quarter-final

The FA via Getty Images

Saka’s former teammate Sancho also quickly posted a message on social media, saying: “I’m so proud of this guy! You did it for me and Marcus, brother!”

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