Gareth Southgate’s tenure as the manager of England came on the back of one of England’s most embarrassing moments in international play.
In competition, England lost in the round of 16 of Euro 2016 to an Iceland side playing in its first major international tournament. That defeat forced Roy Hodgson and much of the coaching staff into resignation. Then, just months later, the 2016 scandal ousted Sam Allardyce after just one game at the helm.
England, which prepared to lose its captain Wayne Rooney and goalkeeper Joe Hart, looked devoid of direction. A number of young players, namely Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling looked like strong candidates to fill in for any departures.
However, they did not have a coach to lead them.
Flash forward into Gareth Southgate’s reign over the Three Lions. England finished fourth at Russia 2018, its best finish since the magical run during Italia ’90. Three summers later, England reached the final of Euro 2020, losing on penalties at Wembley to Italy. That was England’s best finish at the European Championship since Euro 1996, when Southgate himself missed the crucial penalty in England’s semifinal loss to eventual champions Germany.
While most countries would revel in the success of Southgate, his critics remain vocal that England should achieve more. With one of the deepest rosters with potential littered at every position, the pressure turns to the manager.
Gareth Southgate has the potential to be the most successful manager in England’s international history. It comes down to selecting the correct option given the opposition and letting the talent do what it shows it can.
Gareth Southgate’s role with England
International managers do not get much time with their players. Just a handful of days of training precede two or three fixtures in one week. Then, the players return to their individual clubs to battle it out. That only comes a handful of times each season.
Consequently, it can be challenging for managers, like Gareth Southgate, to get their ideas across to talented players. Gareth Southgate takes advantage of the scarce time he has with the players. The former English international prioritizes building relationships with his players, allowing them to bond and be confident around each other.
Southgate’s ‘person over player‘ approach does not quell the litany of abuse England fans hurl his way. Oftentimes, they do not care about the emotions of the player, just the results and silverware they fight to bring in. To be fair, that is the goal of the game: winning.
By their standard, Southgate holds them back.
At Russia 2018, England had the second-youngest side at the World Cup to Nigeria. Even then, established players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker played key roles. With England eliminating a tough Colombia side in the round of 16 before a comfortable 1-0 win over Sweden, this looked like a coming of age party for this England squad.
Despite losing to Croatia in a game where England held an early lead, fourth place was a massive win for the side. Trent Alexander-Arnold was just 19 at the time, and Harry Maguire looked strong at the age of 25.
At Euro 2020, Gareth Southgate built upon his young squad to give even more players experience in major moments. The average age of the team was almost a full year younger than the 26 from Russia in 2018, despite the fact that Euro 2020 came three years after that tournament.
The major complaint with Gareth Southgate regarding the loss at Wembley stemmed from the fact that it was another game in which England held the lead. Rather than pushing the agenda with the plethora of young, exciting and fast options up top, three of the manager’s five substitutions came late into the extra 30-minute period. In fact, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho only came on in the 120th minute to take penalties. Of course, they both missed in the shootout.
Meanwhile, after a disappointing run of performances in competitive games, England have now gone over seven hours without scoring a goal. To make matters worse, Southgate appears reluctant to change. Instead, he’s banking on doing what has earned him success in the past (see below) instead of making much-needed improvements now. Add to that, his in-game management is poor. He’s too slow to make substitutions, and appears to be reactive in games instead of making proactive changes or decisions.
Gareth Southgate provides his reaction to last night's defeat in Milan:
— England (@England) September 24, 2022
In conclusion, while Southgate is a qualified coach, his team’s overly-conservative style of play on the pitch holds the team back. Instead of pushing forward and unleashing its might, England continually shrinks back and tries to hold on to a slender lead. That is the ultimate downfall of Southgate and the England national team. We will never know what the team is capable of when the coach is too pragmatic.
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