Two sluggish 1 nil wins and England made it to the World Cup to a chorus of apathy and disapproval. In the media scrum that followed everyone had their say and sadly that meant a ‘speak your brains’ phone in on Five Live. Depressingly someone called in to say sack Southgate and replace him with Harry Redknapp or Carlo Ancelotti apparently because Ancelotti speaks better English than ‘That other Italian they had.’ A word of advice for anyone who feels like phoning in live on air- know the names of the people you’re taking about!
No Instant Fix
Quite a few people have suggested the newly out of work Ancelotti, but I wouldn’t agree on the grounds that when England went foreign in the past it was to get the best out of a highly gifted generation of players so you could understand the FA seeking out the best first team manager available. Now the aim is to bring through the youngsters, set a template for the junior sides to come into in years to come and improve on the awful tournament performances of 2014 & 2016. With the emphasis on bringing through the players and coaches parachuting in a high price overseas manager isn’t a fit.
As for Redknapp he should have got the job in 2012, but let’s be clear in 2017 he’d be a disaster. He was fired from his last successful job in 2012 and since then made a disastrous mess of QPR and more recently Birmingham due to overspending on veteran players. If ‘arry got the England job his first move would be to recall John Terry, Peter Crouch & Michael Carrick- anyone who doubts that should look back at his comments last season that Terry was the answer for every Premier League side struggling at the back, he then offered Terry a truckload of cash to join Birmingham. If the focus is on bringing through youngsters it would be like appointing Mario Andretti to run a speed awareness course. And thats before we get to the due diligence required to check into any skeletons in his closet.
Ultimately changing the manager won’t fix the problems and England need a manager who is bought into their long term plan.
The next man in
When The FA appointed Gareth Southgate the cupboard was bare, one year on the candidates for the England job are there but all have questions to answer and missions to complete at club level first;
Brendan Rodgers has long been established as a good coach and provided a standard of play at Liverpool not seen since the late 80s (admittedly helped by having Luis Suarez in the side). After things went pear shaped at Anfield but he’s enhanced his reputation with Celtic, where the job he’s done should be measured in improved performances rather than domestic silverware, it’s also been long rumoured Rodgers coverts the England job.
The elephant in the room with Rodgers is he isn’t English, could the man from Northern Ireland manage England? Many have pointed out that with every other coach at St Georges Park having to be English the program could be undermined by having an Ulsterman at the top of the tree. Of course Rodgers isn’t comparable with Fabio Capello, he has come through the ranks in England and clearly there isn’t a cultural problem. The other issue with Rodgers is his goal of making Celtic a credible european force is only partially completed- they have improved but need a run (more likely in the Europa League) after Christmas to complete what he started. And then there’s his tendency to turn into David Brent.
Sean Dyche has done a great job at Burnley taking them to 2 promotions and looks like securing a third straight season in the Premier League. The problem with Dyche is he really needs to do it with a bigger club first, his ideal next step would either be given greater resources at Burnley or move on to one to next level premier league club (West Ham, Everton or Newcastle all spring to mind) before considering a move to international football. There’s also his tendency to come out of with stone age comments in press conferences- comparing English managers to own brand supermarket jeans isn’t a good look.
Eddie Howe- An easier fit for the FA than Dyche, Eddie Howe has achieved a lot with Bournemouth and his sides no play nice football. But he currently needs to fight his way out of a relegation fight and like Dyche may need a higher profile and better resourced club job first, he also failed to get a tune out of Jack Wilshere and has struggled with big signings. All that being said if the job came up tomorrow Howe would be favourite.
Paul Clement- Clearly a world class coach from his time with Real Madrid, Clement made a big impact on arriving at Swansea and kept a relegation threatened side in the Premier League. Clement’s sides play possession based football and he clearly has a lot to offer. The negative is like Howe he’s in a relegation battle right now and not only needs to win that, he has to progress Swansea up the Premier League table to prove he has the management nouse to match his coaching chops.
I’m not saying Southgate is a better manager than any of these fellas, what I think is important is they need more time in club football to hone their craft and if the aim is for 2020 and 2022 it’s better to wait and see if they can progress the way we hope rather than throwing them in at the deep end. And we should remember that Southgate didn’t want the job, his preference was to gain more experience with the under 21s and have a go at the U21 Euros of 2017 before being ready to go for the senior job, unfortunately Sam Allardyce walked into a bar with some undercover reporters and that was that.
The Pros and Cons of Gareth
Nobody should make an argument for Southgate being a top class manager, there’s no evidence of that. He’s at best a work in progress manager who’s had to step in and learn on the job. The style has been none existent but Southgate is a studious man who has successfully avoided the pitfall of experimenting in qualifiers- which ultimately did for Steve McClaren.
Southgate’s best work appears to have been behind the scenes with the players clearly bought into his program and working to make improvements in grassroots football. He’s also promoted youngsters, shown a tactical flexibility that Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Erikkson lacked, steering clear of 4-4-2 and using a safe 4-2-3-1 for qualifying and experimenting with 3-4-3 in friendlies. He speaks well, is promoting youngsters and isn’t going to do something stupid and embarrass his employers (unlike the last bloke).
But the style or lack of it is England’s biggest problem and there’s been little on display over the last 12 months, notably in the last 6 games (Scotland, France, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia & Lithuania). Part of that is down to the lack of central midfield options (what he would’t give for a Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard or even Jenas.) But he hasn’t shown much sign of crafting a solution around that weakness- perhaps the switch to 3-4-3 will be the best way of doing that. And although England haven’t conceded many goals in qualifying (3 and 2 of those were direct free kicks) we’ve yet to see if Southgate can forge a tight defensive plan.
One coach Southgate unfortunately reminds me of is former England Rugby Union Head Coach Stuart Lancaster. The parallels are obvious, Lancaster came from the RFU backroom after doing well with the junior levels and got the big job on the basis of a successful stint as interim manager. Lancaster jettisoned the veterans and brought through the young players but couldn’t quite blend them into a winning team and ultimately failed at the Rugby World Cup, his successor Eddie Jones has since made the same team into a ruthless winning machine. Of course Lancaster made some enormous selection blunders (Sam Burgess, dropping Mike Ford) and there’s no sign of Southgate doing that thus far.
Another major issue with Lancaster was his players were clearly not ready for tournament rugby at the World Cup with many overwhelmed by the experience. And that’s probably Southgate’s strongest card. As a veterans of 4 tournaments under 4 different managers as a player Southgate should have a better feel of what will and won’t work in the pressure cooker of tournament football, indeed he’s already adopting some of Terry Venables ideas.
There’s also one area in which Southgate’s side have shown tangible signs of improvement- mental toughness. England’s mental fragility has been their biggest problem at recent tournaments. Southgate was quick to point out his side didn’t drop to their knees when 2-1 down at Hampden Park instead they kept their cool and equalised. There was more of the same when Slovakia got an early goal at Wembley. Will they do that in a tournament? We’ll have to wait and see but for now England fans need to stick by their manager and hope he knows what he’s doing, and no more talk of ‘arry.