Bukayo Saka's inspirational redemption arc for club and country

• Heartbreak on the biggest stage

• Vile racist abuse

• Now, a national hero

England v Switzerland: Quarter-Final - UEFA EURO 2024
England v Switzerland: Quarter-Final - UEFA EURO 2024 / Richard Pelham/GettyImages

Bukayo Saka has endured a turbulent few years but has now completed an inspiring redemption arc following Euro 2020 heartbreak.

Arsenal star Saka has so often been subjected to undue criticism and scrutiny throughout his brief yet meteoric career to date.

On Saturday night, he was the hero as England came from behind to beat Switzerland on penalties at Euro 2024, but he has had anything but an easy ride over the last few years.

Euro 2020, played in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, delivered the biggest test of character that Saka will likely face in his entire career.

Italy v England Euro 2020 final
Italy v England Euro 2020 final / Tom Jenkins/GettyImages

Few will have forgotten his involvement in the fateful penalty shootout in the final, against Italy, where he saw his decisive penalty saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma - which saw Italy lift the European Championship title.

While the heartbreak of the occasion was paramount and would have weighed heavy on him for a long time anyway, it was the vile racist abuse directed at him, as well as at Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, who also missed penalties, which caused real hurt.

The torrent of racist abuse was, frankly, appalling, and led to campaigns from England and, in particular, Arsenal, to send support to the then 19-year-old.

In the three years since, Saka has been on an upward trajectory which today sees him among the best players in world football, and a two-time England Men's Player of the Year, but just how did he bounce back from such a low point?

Heartbreak on the biggest stage

A home European final under the famous Wembley arch. An entire nation looking on, albeit through their fingers, expectingly.

An Italian goal midway through the second half devastatingly cancelled out Luke Shaw's early strike saw the game taken into extra time and, eventually, tension gripped both sets of supporters as a penalty shootout awaited.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bukayo Saka
Italy v England - UEFA Euro 2020: Final / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

As has so often been the case for the national team, the shootout spelt heartbreak for England, as all three of England's final penalties were either saved or missed, with the deciding penalty, taken by Saka, being saved by Donnarumma.

While, for the most part, it was disappointment that swept the nation but, for some, the only way to vent this sadness was, apparently, through torrents of vile racist abuse, of which Saka was the primary, though not sole, target.

Rising above hate

It would have been easy, and understandable, for Saka to let the abuse weigh him down, cloud his mind and impact his performances, but, in a true show of his character, he did exactly the opposite.

Arsenal fans rallied behind him, showing immense support in the months that followed, and Saka channelled their positivity into excellent performances on the pitch, and quickly reaffirmed his place as one of the Premier League's best players.

In the season that followed, Saka scored 11 goals and assisted a further seven in the Premier League, and remained a vital member of Mikel Arteta's team.


This was no flash in the pan, either, as he would go on to record 14 goals and 11 assists in the following season and, in the most recent season, saw his tally rise to 16 goals and nine assists - a truly exceptional output, which has been so consistent since Euro 2020.

It is not just his general goal involvements which have been great since the fateful day at Euro 2020, however, as Saka's penalty record has also been superb, making him one of Arsenal, and England's most reliable spot-kick takers.

In the years that have followed since his devastating miss, Saka has failed to score just one of his 15 penalties, giving him a conversion rate of 93 per cent - an astounding record given that that incident will have no doubt plagued his mind since.

An England hero

His club form is one thing, but Saka has excelled on the international stage since the disappointment of Euro 2020 too, and has two England Men's Player of the Year awards to show for his efforts too.

Bukayo Saka
England v Switzerland: Quarter-Final - UEFA EURO 2024 / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Most recently, Saka was the hero for England as they came from behind to eventually beat Switzerland on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024. In the game, Saka scored England's equaliser late in the game, an exceptional curling effort from outside the box, and also converted with his spot-kick in the shootout - the perfect way to complete his redemption arc since the Euro 2020 final.

Now, despite still having his critics, Saka is a force to be reckoned with in football, and is one of the first names on Gareth Southgate's teamsheet, as well as being one of, if not the best, wingers in the Premier League.

His likeable character and strong mentality make it almost impossible to dislike him, regardless of who you support, and his journey since Euro 2020 serves as an inspiration that from the lowest of lows, incredible stories and comebacks can be born.