A cautionary tale: a team ranked fourth in the world (I know) went to Denmark (a mediocre team who will never attack you for long periods – as someone asked on Twitter, has Denmark ever been involved in a good game of football?) and started a trumped-up friendly with three central defenders and two holding midfielders (and two-right backs). Put it another way: Eric Dier, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips should never ever be on the pitch at the same time in an international match, unless you’re down to nine men and defending for your life.
Jack Grealish got 15 minutes – England always handles its mercurial players with something akin to disgust or suspicion – and created more in that time than the rest of his team-mates combined in 90. Danny Ings, a player who scored more goals than any of his team-mates last season, sat on the bench all game. Of course England missed the likes of Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood. But there is enough talent to make up for these absences. Mason Mount was bright, but again, he didn’t start.
Well, that was grim. And self-inflicted. #eng have one of the best sets of attackers around – Sancho, Kane, Sterling – yet Southgate picks a cautious, clueless system that emasculates them. No creativity, no thought. Displays like this deserve to be behind closed doors. Poor.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) September 8, 2020
Gareth Southgate is losing goodwill fast. His performance at the 2018 World Cup, when England lucked into the semi-finals, is being revised as nothing to write home about, and rightly so – England beat four teams they really should have beaten (Tunisia, Panama, Colombia, Sweden), mostly in an unconvincing manner, and lost to Belgium and Croatia (at the time, neither were particularly good teams). The defeat by Croatia badly exposed Southgate’s tactical deficiencies, as England slowly lost control of their biggest match in decades. Put simply, he failed to react under pressure.
I’ve met Southgate a couple of times. He seems like a lovely man. He’s obviously very good at building relationships with young players and, having been a pundit, he understands how the media works. Also, the FA can trust him to act with dignity and humility in almost any situation. He’s a capable manager, then, in the general sense of the role. But as a coach, he is strictly second rate, and his record backs this up. One example: look at how Jadon Sancho plays for Dortmund, then compare and contrast how he plays for England. Ditto Trent Alexander-Arnold. I concede this has long been an issue for England managers, but still, Southgate doesn’t seem to know what to do with his creative players. Perhaps because he is a pragmatist with no clear football philosophy – look, I get it, managing England is a shitshow, always has been.
Calling it now: England will stumble at the Euros next summer, with Southgate in charge, and then he will resign. Or, a worse scenario, England will perform just about well enough (quarter-final exit) for him to keep his job until the World Cup. The FA always sacks managers when it’s too late, i.e after failures in major tournaments.