2022 World Cup Qualifications – England: Gareth Southgate, the paradox that endures


Gareth Southgate is therefore on the verge of becoming the highest paid manager on the planet. The FA is so keen to retain the first manager to take England to the final of a major tournament since Sir Alf Ramsey that they would offer him an annual salary of around € 7m – plus bonuses – if he agreed to extend his current contract by two years, until the conclusion of Euro 2024

. That is to say double what Joachim Löw touched, almost triple the emoluments of Didier Deschamps and Roberto Mancini, and five times those of Luis Enrique.

Seven million is as much as what Fabio Capello touched when he was at the head of the Three Lions; but Capello, he had five titles of champion of Italy, two of Spain and one of Europe to his CV when he agreed to take over from Steve McClaren in 2007, while Southgate’s record consisted and still consists in a white sheet. The FA had no choice but to match the salary a big club would have offered to convince the Italian to say ‘yes’ – one of the only words he knew in the language of Wayne Rooney at the time.

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The man with no record

The generosity of the English Federation is understandable. The English team, endless eighth and quarter-finalist under Eriksson, Capello and Hodgson, has finally emerged from almost twenty years of honorable mediocrity, to assume the status of the ‘great nation’ of football that it has never ceased to hold. self-attribute. When she failed, and often it was, it was never because she was simply at her level; it was either because bad luck and the refereeing corps had ganged up against it, or because the managers who ran it had been unable to harness its potential.

With Southgate, whom the FA had turned to for lack of anything better – for lack of anyone else, in fact – after the scandal that forced Sam Allardyce to resign, England continued to fail; but what passes for failure is quite different today.

What a failure for Gareth Southgate’s young side is missing the boat in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals after opening the scoring against Croatia. It is to do the same against the Netherlands in the semi-final of the League of Nations the following year. It is finally reaching this final, at the Euro, against the Italians, scoring the first, once again, to fall after a penalty shootout. Each time, in overtime, as if England were condemned to live the torment of Tantalus, dying of thirst although surrounded by water, water which receded as soon as the unfortunate man approached his lips.

The English after the Euro 2020 final

Credit: Getty Images

The Three Lions have the biggest tank

What had he missed each time? A bit of success, a hint of luck, and above all, more daring at decisive moments. It is likely that the 3-4-3 we have just seen against Albania and San Marino (record: 15 goals scored, 0 conceded) will be put back in the mothballs as soon as the opponent is more relieved, to make room for a more ‘cautious’ version of the same formation, in which the positioning of the wing-backs (understand the pistons or the laterals) will be much lower than what we saw during the international break that has just been s ‘finish – so much so that England’s’ three-way defense’ will look like a back five.

It was Southgate’s choice at Wembley on July 11, fielding just three offensive players against an Italy exhausted by a sparkling tournament; and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he made the same choice next fall. Surprise, anyway, is not a weapon Southgate is accustomed to using. He has the faults of his qualities. Caution can turn into shyness, respect given to others into apprehension, calm into apathy; and until now, when he should have done violence to himself, he preferred to suffer.

It may be enough, moreover, as the pool of players at its disposal is of such a depth unprecedented in the history of English football of the last half-century, to the point that many other leading nations should be jealous of her. Times journalist Henry Winter has indulged in the game of the XI of the possible drop-outs from the list of 23 (or 26, if FIFA followed UEFA’s lead) who will go, or, rather, who will not go to the 2022 World Cup, including only players already capped by the Three Lions.

Southgate or the mess of a sexy offensive arsenal: « When you see the bench … »

Here is that team: Nick Pope; Kieran Trippier, Joe Gomez, Fikayo Tomori, Aaron Cresswell; Callum Hudson-Odoi, James Ward-Prowse, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Ollie Watkins, Tammy Abraham and Harvey Barnes. It is not too much to suggest that this eleven (in which I would replace Cresswell by Marc Guéhi and Barnes by Conor Gallagher, both sparkling with the Palace of Patrick Vieira) would undoubtedly have also qualified for the World Cup coming up. It is no exaggeration to suggest that neither Mancini nor Flick nor Enrique nor Deschamps could field a C team as competitive as this.

It could not be more logical then that bookmakers – and not just those for which the United Kingdom is the main market – today place England in third place of the favorites for the title, at 7 to 1, just behind the Brazil and France. It is not the trajectory of the English in qualifying (no defeat, 26 points out of 30, goal difference of +36) which explains the favor enjoyed by the Three Lions with forecasters. It is not even – not only – their results since the 2018 World Cup. It is first of all the extraordinary wealth of the squad on which Southgate can rely.

It is because we have not yet seen what we are sure this team is capable of. There were a few high-quality performances, but none that really caught the eye – apart from, perhaps, a 3-2 victory over Spain in Sevilla in the Nations League in October 2018, which confirmed 4th place in the World Cup. Russian was not a flash in the pan.

Gareth Southgate with his players in the Euro 2020 final

Credit: Getty Images

Southgate must « Mancinize »

Never has an English coach been able to field so many players who have played in a Champions League final, with Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea

. The feeling remains, however, that with the exception of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, too many of them do not yet evolve at the same level and, above all, with the same freedom as they do with their clubs. It is partly for tactical reasons, in the case of Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, which did not appear besides in the list of the Euro; it is mainly due to a curious psychological blockage which, for decades

affects the English at the most delicate times in major competitions.

This strange reluctance that seizes them is not only the result of repeated trauma, which the ‘Foden generation’ has hardly any memory of, she who won everything with the English selections U17, U19 and U20. It also comes from their coach, his temperament and his convictions. Southgate is advancing, but in small steps, often glancing behind him, like the escaped man who can’t quite believe he has left the peloton, feels it coming back and suddenly feels it. lactic acid rise in his calves.

« Southgate missed out on this final, the defeat is for him »

The risk aversion that characterizes it is not a crippling trait in itself, as the teams from France led by Aimé Jacquet and Didier Deschamps have proven – or the seleçao of Carlos Alberto Perreira in 1994; but in view of the wealth at Southgate’s disposal, one must wonder if it would not be better to take inspiration from Roberto Mancini, to know how to dare, from the outset, and to continue to dare, when his first instinct is to protect this which he acquired, but which in football can be lost in a fraction of a second. The time must come when the saver must become speculator if he does not intend to lose everything, as England lost their three most important meetings of the last five years after scoring the first goal. Which couldn’t be a coincidence.
For Southgate, that means questioning default choices; wondering, among other things, whether it is really appropriate to start the duo Declan Rice – Kalvin Phillips as if it were an indisputable association in midfield, when Jude Bellingham would appear in the starting XI of any what other selection in Europe and is promised to enter a dimension that will always remain alien to Rice and Phillips, however competent they may be. If you haven’t already.

But maybe it's in the nature of Southgate to hurry slowly, and if so, let's wish him safe journey, for what we shall then have will have been worth the wait.

Thirteen in total: Alexander-Arnold, Henderson (Liverpool), Dier, Trippier, Kane, Winks (Tottenham), Chilwell, James, Mount (Chelsea), Sterling, Foden, Stones, Walker (Man City).

I would almost be tempted to say: since the quarter-final lost to the FRG in the quarter-final of the 1970 World Cup.

https://i.eurosport.com/2021/07/12/3171864.jpg

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