A debut season done and what have Southgate’s England accomplished, in truth it’s been a mixed bag of a year but somethings do give cause for optimism;
The Rooney dilemma solved– one of the biggest gripes about Roy Hodgson was his refusal to accept the Wayne Rooney of 2016/17 is not the one of 2009/10. It’s never easy watching a once great player fade but history has shown England a veteran staying 1 tournament too long doesn’t end well; Bobby Moore, Steven Gerrard, David Seaman and Tony Adams all painfully proved that point. Yet Hodgson stuck with Rooney and rearranged the team around him whilst Sam Allardyce showed in 1 game he wouldn’t deviate from Rooney, following his curious “It’s not my job to tell Wayne where to play” comment. Yet Southgate handled the issue in his first week in a way that didn’t disrupt the team or upset the player (Bobby Robson’s handling of Kevin Keegan showed how this can go awry).
Tactical flexibility– Another complaint about Hodgson was the lack of team shape showed at Euro 2016 and flawed tactics of 2014. Time will tell if Southgate has truly got this down but the early signs are positive. England’s default system is now 4-2-3-1 with 3-4-3 the back up plan. Southgate pointed out using the 3-4-3 in Germany was a ploy he learned from playing under Terry Venables in the run up to Euro 96 and the evidence in Germany was it can work (although in France we were given pause for thought). But an England manager using friendlies to experiment with formations is a plus.
Youth Development- The likeliest benefit of promoting the under 21s manager would be a willingness to trust young players and build on existing bonds. Southgate has handed debuts to Michael Keane, Nathan Redmond, Jesse Lingard and James Ward Prowse- all under 21 graduates, expect more to follow soon.
Picking players on form- This should be obvious but has bitten far more experienced England managers on the bum (Capello, Erikkson, Hodgson). Roy omitting Danny Drinkwater in favour of Jack Wilshere after Leicester’s title win typified England manager thinking at major tournaments, Emile Heskey’s appearance at South Africa 2010 was another painful example. Recalling an inform Jermain Defoe (aged 34) for qualifying proved an excellent move, whilst preferring Keane of Burnley and Jake Livermore of West Brom suggested big club pit part players will no longer get picked- So simple but so right.
Player buy in- Recent England tournaments have been characterised by tactical questions and low morale on campus. It’s clear the players have bought into Southgate’s plan, that doesn’t in itself guarantee success but it does point to a motivated confident group, keep that going into a World Cup and things should get off to a good start.