You can hear the outcry already. “The reason I hate Gareth Southgate is because you just know he’s going to play X and Y instead of A and B, and he’ll set us up to lose.”
The England manager’s head was already on the social media chopping block prior to the Euro 2020 squad announcement, with outraged fans calling him clueless for a player selection that inevitably never happened.
Unfortunately, the discord around Southgate has flipped on its head since the summer of 2018, when we were all rushing to Primark to buy waistcoats and singing about his ability to turn us on.
Now he’s a man who should be sacked for decisions we think he’s going to make, rather than waiting to see what he actually lands upon come the big day. That’s how short some people’s patience is. Southgate is hated for things he hasn’t actually done yet – and probably wouldn’t even do.
Many are waiting for England to fail at Euro 2020 too, just to stick the boot in and say, “IT’S TIME TO GO SOUTHGATE!” Well, they’d still be wrong.
The fact is, Southgate stepped into the job when the footballing nation was at its lowest ebb. The FA had just parted ways with a man who drinks pints of wine and tries to land himself punditry work during interviews at relegated clubs, and we didn’t know where to turn.
The Three Lions’ Under-21 boss stepped up – rather sheepishly at the beginning – but has grown into the role of statesman for an entire country. And he’s done plenty right in his tenure thus far. Firstly, he has identified what England’s national team coaches have done wrong in the past, and he has swiftly rectified that.
Hand on heart, have we ever seen a more united and happy England team? Of course, many will say that happiness doesn’t win you tournaments, but think about your own working environment. Everything runs smoother when you’re happy and cracking a few jokes with your favourite colleagues, right.
People will be quick to blast his tactical decisions on the pitch, but one thing we cannot criticise is his ability to manage a group of players. Never has a group of men riding inflatable unicorns brought a nation so much joy.
That’s the chemistry that Southgate has harnessed. And that’s crucial at international level, where morale and togetherness counts for much more than it does at domestic level, where style of play and entertainment value takes precedence.
No national team will ever replicate the football played by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, because they simply don’t have the time to learn such a system. Instead, it’s a group of the 23 best guys (or 26, in this case) pulled together from different corners of the country – and further – who are told to play as a team.
It’s not easy. Southgate knows that, and he knows that as much as we all want to see the very best players flicking one-twos into each other’s path and carving teams open like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, that just doesn’t happen at international level.
He knows that Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are all brilliant attacking options, but he also knows that we can’t play them all at the same time.
We need to be pragmatic, and Southgate is prepared to be just that, even if he also knows he’ll take a barrage of abuse for doing so. Think back to Brazil’s 2006 World Cup side when contemplating the difficulties of international football.
The Selecao lined up with Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano and Ronaldo as an attacking quartet. On paper, that team wins every match. Brazil didn’t make it past the quarter-finals. Football, unfortunately, is much more about organisation and solidity than we’d like to believe.
So, on the pitch, Southgate has our best interests at heart, and behind the scenes, no one has done a better job at making ‘England duty’ far from a duty. And as a representative of a nation, he is simply immaculate.
Can you imagine Sam Allardyce attempting to tackle the delicate and inflammatory topics which Southgate has been faced with over the past couple of years? Can you imagine any other manager handling such issues with as much care, thought and honesty as our current boss?
Not at all.
As he so brilliantly put in his open letter to the country, “At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.”
This is a man who understands what it means to be an England player, understands what it means to be an England manager, and most of all, understands his role in this potential glory. He is so proud to be leading his players into battle, and it’s apparent from their rapport that his troops are proud to be working under him.
That continuity is vital for the national team, and having ushered in this new crop of England starlets, he is the right man to teach them how to thrive on the international scene, while they receive the technical coaching they need to become superstars at their respective clubs.
Southgate is visibly popular among the England squad, and they are prepared to go the distance for him – and so should we. Whether the Three Lions boss fails to bring football home again, or whether he doesn’t turn us on anymore, there is one line that remains true from that Atomic Kitten banger.
He is the one.