Image: Wikimedia Commons / UK Prime Minister

Opinion: Are we ungrateful? Evaluating Gareth Southgate’s England management

Any managerial job in professional football is likely to come under intense scrutiny by the media and the fans, particularly if one finds themselves in the so-called ‘impossible job’ of managing the England national men’s team. Gareth Southgate is the man who currently holds this position, and has certainly experienced his fair share of criticism, both as a player and a manager. As the Three Lions continue their Euro 2024 journey, a tournament which is likely to be Southgate’s last as England manager, it’s important to evaluate Southgate’s time in the most prestigious position in English football and argue whether or not we, as England fans, have been ungrateful to what he has given us over the past eight years.

Southgate inherited the post of England manager at a time when morale in the team had reached a historic low. Reeling from what Alan Shearer called “the worst performance… ever seen from an England team, ever” that saw the team knocked out of the Round of 16 at Euro 2016 in an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Iceland, and the 67-day tenure of Sam Allardyce, it’s evident that something needed to change.

Since his appointment, even the harshest of his critics would struggle to deny Southgate’s transformative impact on English football. The 2018 World Cup saw Southgate manage the team to their first semi-final in twenty-eight years before falling short to eventual runners-up Croatia. Euro 2020 saw England make it all the way to the final, their first since the 1966 World Cup, where, in a heartbreaking moment of deja-vu for infamous penalty misser Southgate, England lost 3-2 to Italy on penalties following a 1-1 draw. Poor refereeing and a missed penalty by Harry Kane saw England knocked out of the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals by France, with Southgate’s future looking ever-more precarious.

The only silverware that Southgate has brought home has been a silver medal at Euro 2020

Despite the historical levels of ‘success’ experienced under Southgate, there is the glaringly obvious fact that, whilst the fans may have more confidence in England to have deep tournament runs, the only silverware that Southgate has brought home has been a silver medal at Euro 2020. A lack of trophies calls into question how much of this Renaissance of English football is attributable to Southgate’s skills as a tactician compared to the level of talent he has on offer.

For example, Southgate’s starting XI’s for England’s group stage games of Euro 2024 included the 23/24 Premier League Player of the Season, La Liga Player of the Year, and the European Golden Shoe winner, yet only managed to score two goals against the likes of Serbia, Denmark, and Slovenia. Somehow, England managed to claw their way to winning Group C, but they did so in the ugliest of fashions.

Southgate’s tactics (colloquially called ‘Southgateball’ by many disillusioned fans) have been criticised as being underwhelming at best and infuriating at worst. The flair of the England attack under Southgate, particularly at Euro 2024, has been extremely lacklustre, a by-product of Southgate’s favouring of patient, possession-based moves rather than an intense, forward-thinking mindset.

Of course, England have looked defensively solid in the group stage, only conceding one goal (a rather unlucky long-shot from Denmark’s Morten Hjulmand) and international tournaments often favour defensive play as a means to success, but it is clear that something has got to give in the knockouts.

Out of possession, Southgate’s England aren’t the most exciting team in the world, but the football becomes downright boring even when they have the ball. With the exception of the substitutions of Kobbie Mainoo in midfield, Cole Palmer on the right and Anthony Gordon on the left, England have looked thoroughly deflated when they look to unlock defences. Whilst England would certainly prefer to end up with a 1-0 Euros Final win rather than a 4-3 loss, what happens to this argument when even Southgate’s tactics can’t produce a win over Slovenia?

Whilst injuries have also plagued Southgate’s tactics, particularly the noticeable lack of a naturally left-footed left-back (although Luke Shaw may be in contention for the knockouts), this England team is full of enough individual talent on paper to win the tournament. There is a reason why England are still the favourites to win, and Southgate certainly recognises this.

England cannot afford to squander the potential of another ‘Golden Generation’, and this opportunity for glory starts at the very top, it starts with Gareth Southgate

Going into the knockouts, tactical evolution is essential, particularly including Mainoo in midfield, and potentially re-evaluating the roles of Phil Foden on the left wing, and Bukayo Saka on the right. Southgate has consistently ensured defensive solidity throughout his time as England manager, but this team is now experienced enough to introduce a greater flair in the final third.

England cannot afford to squander the potential of another ‘Golden Generation’, and this opportunity for glory starts at the very top, it starts with Gareth Southgate. Yes, he has gotten us to our first final since 1966 in the past and reignited the fuel of public morale to bring football home, but England fans have a right not to be complacent with Southgate playing it safe, particularly after a very disappointing group stage performance

Comments (2)

  • Janet Wigger

    Superb article. Great analysis of Gareth Southgate. Nearly England’s hero.

  • Janet Wigger

    Fantastic article. Love the analysis of Gareth Southgate. Nearly England’s hero.

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