Underwhelmed, that’s the word I used to describe the appointment of Gareth Southgate. When Sky Sports, just after 3, broke the news that Gareth Southgate would be the new England manager, signing a 4-year deal, I envisioned 4 more years of mediocrity, followed by another painful search for Southgate’s eventual replacement.
The England managers job is supposed to be the pinnacle of English football, converted by all. Southgate has the worst club record of any England manager in the last 20 years, and his time at club level was hardly at one of the elite clubs in the world. He succeeded Steve McClaren as Middlesbrough manager in 2006 and in his three full seasons in control Middlesbrough laboured at best. During his time with the club, Middlesbrough finished 12th and 13th before relegation to the Championship at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Southgate was sacked after 13 games in the Championship with Boro sitting 4th and he left having won only 36 out of 127 league games in charge. Southgate then took time out from the managerial side of football, before joining the FA as its head of elite development. Working in that role between January 2011 and July 2012. He then took the job, in which he rebuilt his managerial reputation, manager of the England under-21s.
He endured a tough European Championships in 2015 when England’s youngsters were knocked out at the group stage. But he did suffer from the fact that the FA decided to that he wouldn’t be able to select players such as Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley. However, he did coach the Under-21s to victory in the Toulon Tournament in France earlier this year, beating the hosts 2-1 in the final.
Southgate is FA through and through. He has worked in the system for the last 5 years and knows what it takes to work in the environment. Southgate also endured a string working relationship with Roy Hodgson during the former’s ill-fated turn at the England job. Southgate earned 57 England caps between December 1995 and March 2004, despite his England career being mainly remembered for 1 penalty miss. Southgate is a relatively recent former international player who has shown an ability to relate to his players, especially the younger generation that England will depend on in the future.
But his appointment smacks of being an accident, and coming far too soon. Of course Sam Allardyce was appointed to the role back in July. Southgate was linked with the role, but declined the opportunity to even be interviewed for the role. He would later elaborate in September:
“I think with England there are one or two other things that I would want to have had experience of before I took that role,”
2 months later, he now has that role. No one could account for Sam Allardyce’s outside indiscretions, as Allardyce had been expected to carry out the role until Russia 2018. Allardyce had to go, but you can forgive the FA in a blind panic- with a World Cup qualifier a mere 10 days away- for appointing, on a temporary basis, the nearest man in the building with any coaching experience.
So Southgate was given a 4 game job audition to prove his worth, and to claim what he called the “ultimate job”. But what of his 4 game audition, there was a plodding win against Malta, which England won 2-0, against a side who were in the bottom echelon of world football. Southgate also felt it necessary to play 2 holding midfielders in this game. Then there was a pretty wretched 0-0 draw in Slovenia, which smacked of all the hall marks of a typical England performance. Boring and devoid of class. Then there was a flattering victory against one of the worst Scotland teams in years.
In Southgate’s defence his England team top the qualifying group by 2 points. By the time the Spain game rolled around it seemed that Southgate had done enough to get the job on a permeant basis. The result would be irrelevant to Southgate’s job aspirations. In the 89th minute England were winning 2-0, by full time it was 2-2. It was alarming at how badly England fell apart in the last 5 minutes of that game, especially considering this was the first quality opposition Southgate had faced. It also showed that he has a lot to learn, and a short time to do so, leaving Southgate with a record of P4 W2 D2
Southgate has definitely stumbled into this job. If the FA had appointed him in the summer, after the disastrous Euros and before Sam Allardyce, he wouldn’t have been accepted by fans or media. But people have now become accustomed to him. Also if there had have been a great deal of choice, then Sam Allardyce wouldn’t have got the job back in July.
While Arsene Wenger, and Jurgen Klinsmann were linked with the role at various times, England have tried big name managers in the past, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, both took on the role and struggled to improve on English World Cup win in 1966. Plus, much like Joachim Low Southgate knows the England set-up from head to toe, and will know plenty about the young English talent that is coming through.
For Southgate there are a few immediate issues that he has to deal with now he has the job on a permeant basis. Staring him blank in the face is the situation with Wayne Rooney. Southgate was the manager in charge, when Rooney was caught indulging himself in some late night beers, when on England duty (all be it with time off, and knowing he wouldn’t feature in the Spain game) The media overacted, but Southgate has to address if Rooney, who is no longer a guaranteed first team starter for Manchester United, is worth a place in his team and squad.
He also has a wealth of strikers at his selection, yet he chose to select Daniel Sturridge for the Scotland game, despite not being a regular starter for Liverpool this season, and an out of form Jamie Vardy for the friendly with Spain. Although both strikers returned the selection with goals, an argument can be made for starting others. Southgate will need to settle on a formula, especially with upcoming friendlies against Germany and France to consider.
The biggest task facing Southgate, and something that has escaped his last couple of predecessors, is he must win football matches at major tournaments, and particularly those that count. England have lost every one of their next stage knock out games, since 2006. They were humiliated 4-1 by Germany in 2010 in South Africa, lost to Italy on penalties in 2012, didn’t make it out of the group stages in Brazil in 2014, and were gloriously humiliated by Iceland in this year’s Euros. In fact, in their last 15 tournament matches, across the last 6 years, England have only won 4 matches.
England haven’t made a semi-final since 1996, a game Southgate will know all too well. He must find the answer to making the England shirt such a burden to his players who seem to shrink when they put the shirt on. He must also break down the psychological barrier that grips talented players when the heat is on a task that has eluded more experienced managers than him.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202