Gareth Southgate should stay, but the FA must also look to the future
Sir Alf Ramsey was caught off guard by an FA committee, Kevin Keegan resigned at the Wembley toilets, Roy Hodgson announced he had left 20 minutes after his defeat by Iceland. As in politics, most managerial careers in England end in failure, even Sir Alf who is still the only one to have won a trophy.
Gareth Southgate had to think about it as he pondered his future at home in Harrogate last week. The 52-year-old is closer than anyone to ending years of injury by guiding a team that has been humiliated in back-to-back tournaments to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final. But now he was thinking, ‘Do I want another two years?’
It seems he does. That’s good news. His record and successful restoration of the England players’ relationship with the national team and their fans is why Southgate should carry on.
His reservations centered on the difficult period last summer, when an exhausted side suffered a string of poor results, most notably the 4-0 home defeat by Hungary, after which a section of the crowd urged him to retire.
That was bitterly ironic as one of the main criticisms is that Southgate is set up defensively. At Molineux it was Hungary who camped in defense and broke away to score in the counter-attack. England had more than two-thirds of possession, ten shots to six and six corners to none. Hungary was clinical but not aggressive.
The other accusation, that he is not tactically up to par, is mostly raised by people who have never done coaching in their life and have no idea how complex building a team is. There was little wrong with Southgate’s tactics at the World Cup, even in the game against the USA when the side were underperforming, he effectively eliminated midfield to ensure England achieved a draw – which was all they needed.
There are legitimate questions about substitutions, but it’s easy to be smart after the event. He’s earned the right to continue.
Nevertheless, the Football Association should actively consider the succession plan. However England play at Euro 2024 in Germany, it seems likely that Southgate will step down and the FA should use the time until then wisely.
Her selection of Sarina Wiegman to lead the women’s team might suggest otherwise, but choosing an international manager is an inaccurate science. Such a perfect candidate is rare.
The FA have tried every imaginable guy since Ramsey but stumbled upon the most successful, Southgate, as a loophole after Sam Allardyce – chosen himself because the FA seemed to have run out of ideas and alternatives – was the victim of a newspaper sting.
Southgate had a modest club record as manager but two advantages. As coach of the U21s, he knew many of the talented young players that came through the academy pipeline. As an England international under Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and Sven-Göran Eriksson, he knew the demands of international football, how heavy the shirt was on England players and the importance of relieving that stress.
There is no one with that particular combination, but several candidates that have elements.
Of the ex-players, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are the most obvious, while Nottingham Forest’s Steve Cooper has a successful background in England age group teams.
Add Steve Holland, who learned a great deal as Southgate’s assistant – and has worked with six Chelsea managers but has not picked a first-team since an unfortunate stint at Crewe Alexandra 14 years ago.
Then there’s Chelsea’s Graham Potter, Newcastle’s Eddie Howe and Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers, none of whom have international experience (although Potter trained in Sweden) but are clearly excellent coaches.
The next England manager should come from one of those eight. England should be able to produce a national team manager from their own system (which includes Welshman Cooper and Northern Irishman Rodgers).
When Bobby Robson was England manager, he handed part-time roles with the U21 and B teams to future England managers Venables and Graham Taylor.
The FA now employ full-time managers at age group level and using a modern Premier League manager in this way is likely to face opposition from both their own club and rivals.
Still, there should be a way to ensure that potential successors have advance insight into the challenges of England’s administration, whether through observation visits to St George’s Park during international meetings or through regular briefings with Southgate. Such a brains trust could be mutually beneficial.
Southgate has changed expectations of the England team and, for the most part, the atmosphere around them. If he leaves, the FA must ensure that unlike after 1990 and 1996, even 2006, the momentum is not lost.
Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt