There was a period when it seemed that Bukayo Saka’s golden season would end with him a Premier League champion, perhaps even anointed as Footballer of the Year. And if neither quite came to pass, he still conjured a fitting finish to a wonderful campaign.
The first hat-trick of his career came in just 13 minutes and in his country’s colours. As England’s No. 7 made off with the match ball, they scored seven. North Macedonia have claimed the scalps of Italy and Germany in their recent past but they were demolished. If this could have been a group laced with pitfalls for England, with the reigning European champions, Euro 2020 quarter-finalists and a side who almost qualified for the World Cup, they have the maximum 12 points and are turning their journey to Germany next summer into a procession.
If Saka’s last European Championships ended with the trauma of a penalty miss in the final shootout, he has rendered it highly likely England will go to next summer’s. If he started this season outside Gareth Southgate’s strongest side, he ends it very much in it. A treble took his tally to six goals in his last nine caps; for country as well as club, Saka has proved more prolific than most envisaged.
And yet it is never just about the numbers with Saka. A wonderfully endearing footballer scored the goal of the night against North Macedonia – and England had six others to pick from – with a spectacular half-volley from 20 yards, sent crashing in after a similarly brilliant pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold, a 50-yard ball from Southgate’s new midfielder.