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England in 2017: A change will do you good

Gareth Southgate would struggle to argue that he was inspiring appointment as England manager. He is, by almost every account, a genial cove, but ‘nice’ is closer to insult than compliment in his industry. Southgate did reasonably well at Middlesbrough (before relegation) and reasonably well with England’s Under-21 team (before a disastrous European Championship in 2015). In both cases, the parentheses linger longest. In fact, Southgate’s appointment marked a nadir for England’s national team. It’s nothing personal against his character, but this was the first time that an England manager had been given the job rather than earned it. Even Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren, neither of whom provoked widespread accord, had items on their CV that bore scrutiny. Roy Hodgson had previous international success, Fabio Capello had nine league titles and a Champions League, Graham Taylor had taken Watford up through the leagues and had just led Aston Villa from the Second Division to runners-up in the top flight. Southgate had relegated a club after ten straight Premier League seasons and taken the top seeds to last place in their group at Euro 2015. Still, there is an upside to painfully low expectations: it makes it hard to disappoint people. Southgate was viewed as a beige coach with beige man management techniques who would make beige decisions, Mr Go Out There And Try Your Best. The England job gave him an opportunity to change those perceptions. When you are over-promoted – and there is little doubt that Southgate was – there is no point making the same tired decisions that have caused the downfall of your forefathers. Change is necessary. And change has come. Southgate stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation during qualifying against weaker teams, against whom he believed wingers were necessary to break down packed defences, but announced his intention to switch to a 3-4-3 ahead of the World Cup in Russia. The extra central defensive cover and licence for the wing-backs to attack would be useful, Southgate felt, but it also matches the formation England players experience at Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea. Those three clubs could feasibly cover nine of England’s ten first-choice outfielders next summer: John Stones, Eric Dier, Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane. Yet Southgate has demonstrated courage not just with his change of formation, but personnel. After a year in which England’s youth teams have achieved record-breaking feats (the first country to win three major tournaments in the same calendar year), Southgate understands that there is accrued goodwill to be cherished. The England manager has a role to play. England’s starting XI against Lithuania in October was their youngest for a competitive match in almost 60 years, containing eight players aged 24 or under. Harry Winks was given his international debut after four career league starts. A month later, Southgate gave Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Gomez their debuts against Germany; all three are aged 21 and under. More than half of the squad to face Brazil on Tuesday evening are aged 24 or under, and it contains five 20-year-olds. For those of us who remember Algeria in South Africa in 2010, when eight of England’s starters were aged 29 or older, this is a delightful spring clean. If the retort is that this England squad has merely been decimated by withdrawals, that hardly damns Southgate. Jack Butland, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Harry Kane did all pull out from this squad with injury, but all of those are 24 and under too. Dominic Solanke and Lewis Cook were certainly left-field replacements, but integrating two stars of the Under-20 World Cup win into the senior squad is a reward for that success. It gives them a message of “Look what you can look forward to if you kick on and – crucially – get regular football”. Finally, Southgate has demonstrated resolve in insisting that he will not pick players out of favour at club level, despite coming under pressure to recall Jack Wilshere to his squad who has not started a league game since April. Southgate and England need to persuade the next generation that sitting on the bench at elite Premier League clubs will not earn them international recognition. If Wilshere is having an example made of him, Southgate believes him to be a necessary fall guy. Risky? Yes. Brave? Certainly. Crucially, Southgate learnt against Germany that England’s performance level hardly drops with unfamiliar faces. There are upsides to inexperience and youth as well as low expectations. Wayne Rooney has been nudged into retirement, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart’s importance has been lessened and Jordan Henderson has meaningful competition in central midfield from Winks and Loftus-Cheek. It is Southgate who engineered that competition. In 2010, Fabio Capello selected England’s oldest ever squad for a World Cup. It hardly requires a suspension of belief that England could line up in their first World Cup match next summer with an XI of Butland, Walker, Rose, Stones, Jones, Dier, Winks, Henderson, Sterling, Alli and Kane. None of those would be over the age of 27, and it would be the youngest team England have ever selected at a major tournament. With versatility in system and selection and a commitment to the next generation, it’s hard to criticise Southgate for at least trying something different. There is a courage and conviction to his decisions that few expected. England’s beige manager has at least splashed some colour on the walls. Daniel Storey – Enjoyed this? Please buy Portrait of an Icon, and support research into treating and beating cancer. Thank you. The post England in 2017: A change will do you good appeared first on Football365....


Published By: Fottball 365 - Monday, 13 November, 2017

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