England put in an ordinary performance against Hungary, and only marginally better against Germany, and now people are piling in, saying it’s time for Gareth Southgate to go.
Is it? Oh good?
England have been such a better team during the years of Gareth Southgate’s tenure that it’s clearly and clearly hard for these knockers to remember how bad England were before he launched into utter disarray to take on the job when no one else wanted to.
Cleaning up after Sam Allardyce’s mess and two decades of average performance failure was almost an impossible task, but Southgate responded when his country asked and he did a frankly incredible job.
Southgate is not perfect. His obstinacy in choosing Mason Mount, which offers absolutely nothing at the international level, infuriates me to the point of total exasperation.
And his failure to understand just how much Jack Grealish brings to the team, and how essential he is for England to take the final step and win a major tournament, is equally infuriating.
But Southgate is as close to perfect as England has been for many years. That was two decades ago, if you think back to third place Terry Venables at Euro 1996, or almost three decades if you think back to Sir Bobby Robson.
Southgate’s flaws are so few that England almost won Euro 2020 anyway. And what’s more, those flaws can be fixed.
It’s true. They can be corrected.
In almost every other workplace, the job holder reports to a more experienced person who is there to guide them if they need help and straighten them out if things go wrong.
Bear with me. We all know that incompetence is promoted too often in the corporate world, so for the purposes of this article, let’s assume things are as they should be – the best and most competent people run the show.
The same should be true for the England manager.
What England needs is not Southgate to be sacked prematurely or clumsily, but rather formally assessed, directed and helped on how to rectify his mistakes.
He hasn’t done many, but he keeps doing the same ones and that’s why his boss has to intervene to tell him to stop repeating them.
Those mistakes, as hitters know as well as anyone else, are his overly cautious and negative approach to big games.
1. Choosing teams to try not to lose games rather than winning them. The Euro 2020 final was an absolute example of this.
2. Focusing too much on defensive ability even in specialist attacking roles, rather than giving his attackers a bit more license to tear teams apart.
3. Going into your shell to try and protect runs with negative substitutions, which simply invite opponents in, rather than continuing to be the aggressor and keep the pressure on the opposition.
So, what would his assessment look like – an abbreviated version at least –?
This is what the performance appraisal should include.
This is exceptional. It has completely removed all egos and pre-established rights to selection. There are no more preferential selections based on club allegiances, name over form, long past performances or any other inauthentic criteria.
He created the highest level of unity in the England team since Euro 1996, and arguably even more than that.
A+ Keep up the great work
He selects players solely on merit and gives young players a chance. If you play well enough, you’re in the game.
He is the only English manager to do so in such a true and pure way in living memory.
A+ Keep up the great work
He has a great understanding of major tournaments and how to get there. The goal is to take the last step and win one, so there is still room for improvement.
A- Keep up the great work, but take note of needed improvements as listed below
They were mostly excellent. Impressive qualifying campaigns were followed by reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup and the final of the Euros.
B+ Very good job but winning a major tournament is the goal
These are the results in more detail.
The 4-2-3-1 formation has worked exceptionally well for England in major tournaments.
I note that England centre-backs are not really world class and would be exposed to top teams if the team only had one midfielder. But playing the two starting midfielders works wonders. It’s a big tick.
The 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 systems are not suitable for England players and have shown no evidence of working for England in recent times.
We don’t want to see three at the back used in competitive games (including Nations League games) at all, and preferably not in friendlies either.
A- Keep up the good work
In defence, although England’s centre-backs are not truly world class, the team concedes very few goals as the defenders are very well trained and very capable, as is the goalkeeper.
It’s a big tick on selection and defense.
In midfield, two starting midfielders cover the defense and Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips are talented enough to join in attack.
The way the team plays with these two sitting in front of the defense is very solid and hard to break. It’s a big tick.
On offense, two aspects of your team selection leave a lot to be desired and are one of your biggest flaws so far.
1. Mason Mount continues to deliver ineffective performance after ineffective performance at international level.
He’s rarely able to beat a man, often giving the ball away with plush passes and hardly causing any problems for opposing defenders.
He offers almost nothing at international level as a striker. You have to stop choosing it.
2. Jack Grealish is England’s most creative player and the best on the ball.
Pep Guardiola’s utter abuse and mistreatment of him, screaming in his face from inches away and stifling his game so much he’s afraid to face anyone when he’s wearing a Man City shirt, n has nothing to do with England and is the problem of the owners of Man City.
In his appearances as a substitute for England, he has consistently offered and created more in his short spell on the pitch than the rest of the squad combined.
When he started games he was consistently England’s best player. And when he faced Italy in the Euro final, England suddenly wanted to play again and Italy lost their nerve, backing down after running on the pitch for more than half an hour.
If you ask any opposition defenders who they would least like to face in the England squad, their answer would be Jack Grealish. He should be the first name on the team roster after Harry Kane in every game.
You should choose Jack Grealish in your starting XI and only remove him if he is injured or clearly unsatisfied in any given game.
Don’t remove it for any other reason, especially not to try to end a match, as removing it puts more pressure on the rest of your team (see below).
Tactics and substitutions
Despite your insistence that England are a positive team, your tactics and substitutions are too often too negative.
The team is often too passive in the final third, not going hard enough against opposing defenders and not pressing opposing defenders and midfielders when in possession of the ball.
The team is also too negative in the biggest games, invariably sitting too deep and giving opponents too much time and territory on the ball, especially after taking the lead.
The best examples are the World Cup semi-final and the Euro 2020 final. Your team took the lead in both games and rather than keeping the pressure on the opponents (not getting you fired up in any way, but maintaining a genuine intent to attack while in defensive form), you sat up more and more and allowed Croatia and Italy into the game, especially after half-time.
Sitting ahead in big games against the best opposition is simply an invitation for the opposition to come to you, and it’s only a matter of time until the opposition scores.
Your substitutions have sometimes been just as negative. Removing Jack Grealish, the player the opposition fears the most, is a mistake you keep repeating.
People like Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker praised you for being brutal in knocking him out against Denmark at the Euros when he only came on as a substitute, but you were very lucky Denmark be completely out of breath.
It was a terrible decision. England totally controlled the game before you did.
Denmark hadn’t offered anything for over half an hour, but when you took Grealish down, you openly invited Denmark because they knew you just wanted to sit down and protect your lead.
You put your own team on the back rather than the opposition (for whom you did the opposite).
Denmark came out strong and offered more in the second half of extra time than they had for over half an hour.
Instead of riding to victory, your team spent the last part of the game trying to keep Denmark away after you invited Denmark to join you.
Sitting too passively and making lead-protecting substitutions is negative and sends the message to the opposition to come attack.
You can’t do that against teams capable of injuring you.
You should no longer make lead-protecting substitutions in tournament matches unless the opponent is all over you, and you shouldn’t sit down after taking a lead.
It was an exceptional job for the most part. A World Cup semi-final and a Euro final are fantastic achievements.
But being brutal, it could and should have been better. If you make the changes we suggest, we’re sure it will be next time.
So after all that, England’s reasons for not winning a major tournament under Southgate can be reduced to him not picking Jack Grealish, sitting a little too much at times and making negative substitutions when he doesn’t need it.
The grass is not greener. This is rarely the case.
England fans should help Southgate bid for the World Cup, not get him kicked out of his job before he even gets to Qatar.