Assistant to the regional manager
Seeing a lot of people on Twitter conflate Gareth Southgate and Aidy Boothroyd, simply because they are both current England managers (senior team and Under-21s respectively), and of course shitting on the Three Lions is something of a national past-time – especially for that brand of obnoxious fan who has his team’s crest as his profile picture.
But let’s be clear, their job title is the only thing Southgate and Boothroyd have in common.
Southgate has hardly put a foot wrong since taking the England job in 2016, after that year’s European Championships. He has a lot of boxes ticked: he backs young talent, he selects on form, he will discipline players when necessary (just because he is nice, it doesn’t mean he’s soft; you don’t play more than 50 times as a defender for your country if you’re soft), he’s excellent at handling the media (no surprise as he was a pundit before), and, as far as I can tell, he’s improving all the time as a coach – something he needs to do, as it was the weakest aspect of his management.
But surely coaching is the most important part of management, I hear you cry! Well, of course it’s important, but at international level I’m not sure it’s as important as at club level. And Southgate knows what he’s doing, I think, or at least what he wants to do. Idiots who still expect England to go all over Europe in qualifying and thrash Johnny Foreigner – “do Albania even play football?” – scoffed at Southgate’s selection for the Albania game (SEVEN defensive players!) but it worked and you could see the players knew what they were supposed to be doing. Winning with a clean sheet in Tirana is never going to be easy.
So, on top of all the good stuff Southgate is doing, there does seem to be a basic plan: play two holding midfielders who can pivot, and use a trident of fast attacking players in support of Harry Kane (or Dominic Calvert-Lewin, or Ollie Watkins; Southgate is not afraid to drop players who don’t perform, and I think that extends even to Kane). He’s not reinventing anything here, but it’s working. Sure, it’s pragmatic, but pragmatism wins trophies. Playing four up front does not.
The bottom line: Southgate is performing. In his first major tournament, he led England to a World Cup semi-final. He then got third place in the inaugural Nations League, after winning a devilish group containing Spain and Croatia. The Nations League! Pah! Yeah, you scoff again, but participants took it seriously.
England will qualify for Qatar 2022 with ease, I’m sure. And I expect them to reach the knockout stages of this summer’s Euros, and perhaps more. This is all good stuff. It’s certainly not under-achievement.
England could take Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Reece James, Declan Rice, Jadon Sancho, Bukaya Saka, Luke Shaw, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jude Bellingham to a major tournament. That’s nuts. Okay, probably a couple of those players will fail to make the cut, but the fact is, now is a very positive time to support England. And Southgate has to take some credit for that.
Aidy Boothroyd, on the other hand, is bobbins. To call him a Pound Shop Graham Taylor, as one might, is to insult Taylor, not Boothroyd.
What on earth is a manager who was once sacked by Northampton Town going to teach players who are coached by the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel? To see the England U-21s flop in the Euros is utterly predictable and proof that a good crop of players isn’t enough to succeed. So, pretty please, don’t ever mention Southgate and Boothroyd in the same 140 characters.