Why Southgate is not the one

December 16, 2022 - 10:24
Yes, Southgate is the second-best manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, but with this talented group of players, England should never have to settle for second-best.


Southgate needs to step up quickly or step out. — AFP/VNA Photo

Anh Đức

HÀ NỘI — The majority of England supporters might be behind Gareth Southgate, but not me.

When the former FA Head of Elite Development replaces Sam Allardyce in the hot seat as caretaker, I had high hopes that this man could be the manager England needed.

Solving the locker room problem, uniting a generation of players playing in rivalling teams in the Premier League, giving chances to youngsters, and helping them get past their mental barriers are what Southgate has achieved during his current tenure as England manager.

In terms of silverware, he has won nothing.

Sure, England made the top four in Russia two years after being knocked out in the Euros by Iceland. But in that semi-final, although they took the early lead against Croatia, England failed to hold on to beat an exhausted opponent.

Yes, England is top four in the inaugural Nations League, but letting the Netherlands, came back with fifteen minutes to go is not how a top team should play. Winning third place against Switzerland on penalties is also not the icing on the cake, but rather, a cheap consolation prize.

And England in last year's Euro final, leading Italy 1-0 after three minutes, decided to sit back and defend in Wembley of all places, rather than piling the pressure on two centre backs with a combined age of 70. What happened next, we all know.

France under Didier Deschamps was a world quarterfinalist in 2014 and lost the Euro final on home turf in 2016 before winning the World Cup in 2018.

Southgate's England seemed to have progressed and might have repeated Les Bleus's course, and 2022 should have been the year, the peak.

But it seemed that England's peak came in 2021. After the Euro disappointment, their form nosedived. England got relegated from the Nations League and had a run of six winless games before the World Cup.

In Qatar, hope seemed to have returned when they hammered Iran 6-2, but the woe persists when they almost lost to the United States.

England's play under Southgate against lesser opposition is thrilling to watch, but when they face their first powerhouse opponent, they choked.

The mentality and how they lose against greater teams is quite similar to a Premier League relegation contender, not how a champion should play. And who managed a relegated side in 2009? Gareth Southgate.

Staying deep and parking a flimsy bus to protect an early lead, making questionable substitutions at questionable timing, and building a static, non-flexible system, are all characteristics of a bottom of the table manager.

England are currently blessed with a golden generation of player, and the world's best football league. This group of players are made to be winners, not runners-up or quarterfinalists.

Perhaps the FA could take a page out of their women's team. In 2019, Phil Neville took an England side ranked second in the world to the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup, but did not even take a medal home.

Neville left his post after a run of bad results, and was replaced by Sarina Wiegman, who led England to their first senior football trophy since you-know-when, by winning the 2022 Euros.

The Lionesses are still undefeated since Wiegman took charge, which is a stark contrast to Neville's time as manager with 11 defeats.

In 2019, Steph Houghton, the captain, missed a penalty against the reigning world champions USA that could have been the equaliser. Neville's reign took a downturn from then.

In 2022, Harry Kane, captain of England, missed the equalising penalty against defending champions France.

Southgate said after the match against France that he needed time to reflect before deciding whether or not to continue. A great answer from him, in my opinion.

Yes, Southgate is the second-best manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, but with this talented group of players, England should never have to settle for second-best.

Southgate need to step up quickly or step out, because time's ticking for Foden, Bellingham, and Saka. — VNS