Tag Archives: Gareth Southgate

England Three Lions

Does the future look bright for England?

Despite the defeat by Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup, England  and their fans have taken more positives from the Russia 2018 then negatives.

But after the Three Lions had their limitations exposed by a decent but by no means great Croatian side, the challenge must be to get better if they are to be among the favourites for Euro 2020.

Boss Gareth Southgate has undoubtedly set England on the right path by guiding them to within a win of reaching the final, and getting to their last four of a World Cup for the time since 1990 was a considerable achievement in itself.

But as Southgate said: “We’ve got to use it as a springboard to consistently reach the latter stages of tournaments.”

Improvements needed

There is no ignoring England’s problem with creating opportunities; they scored only four open-play goals from inside the box in Russia.

Although they scored more goals (12) than in any previous World Cup, they were over-reliant on their ability to score from set plays, and pundits have highlighted a lack of creativity, and the importance of having an impactful playmaker in midfield.

Converting more chances into goals is another issue for England. In the semi-finals, they could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up in the first half but squandered several opportunities and allowed Croatia to get back into the game.

Overcoming the Croatians to reach the final was entirely possible, but a youthful England team allowed their more experienced opponents to stay calm and work themselves into a winning position.

By the end, Southgate’s men had run out of energy and ideas – no one more so than Harry Kane who looked a shadow of the striker so feared by opponents early in the tournament.

The next steps

Southgate has grown into his role and his positive but realistic approach created an England team maturing young talents in the image of their manager.

Most pundits and observers regarded reaching the quarter-finals as a success with the young squad that was chosen, but more respect and admiration was added by reaching the final four. England as a nation fell back in love with its national team.

Of course, their group loss to Belgium offered England a more advantageous path to the later stages. The third youngest squad in Russia didn’t have the experience to take things a step further, but they will have learnt from their disappointment, and can hopefully apply those painful lessons at future tournaments.

Formation

England played well in a 3-5-2 formation, but the question moving forward is whether it can work in all situations. When Croatia began pressing and running the ball down the flanks, swinging in dangerous crosses, a switch to 4-3-3 would have helped. But it would have been a big call if not rehearsed and it is understandable that, to build confidence, Southgate has focused on specialising in one system.

However, when opponents work out how to exploit the weaknesses of your preferred system, it’s vital to have a Plan B. This is definitely a critical aspect of improving England’s young squad for the tournaments ahead.

At least, in Jordan Pickford, England seem to have found a goalkeeper who can rise to the big occasions – something they have not always been able to rely on in recent tournaments.

Pickford made his competitive debut in Russia and gained widespread respect thanks to his fine performances, as did Harry Maguire as a centre back with an unquenchable desire to get forward.  Both have bright futures as essential parts of the national team.

Management

It felt like Southgate managed to get away with making dubious changes against both Columbia and Croatia. The introduction of Eric Dier played a significant role in preventing England from keeping the ball, and during the semi-final, this impacted the team towards the end of extra-time.

Southgate has accomplished more than any other England manager in the past decade by picking players with the ability (or potential) to strengthen his preferred system.

However, there was a case for having the likes of James Milner, or another experienced player on the field, at least towards later stages of each match, encouraging the team to stay focused and keeping everyone motivated.

In the semi-final, Marcus Rashford replaced Raheem Sterling but this failed to answer to the problem of Croatia’s dominance during the second half. Should Southgate have made more use Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has game-changing abilities as an attacking midfielder?

Southgate admitted: “There was just a period in the second half where it looked like we had the lead and didn’t want to give it away, rather than keep playing. We just lost a bit of composure in that period, and Croatia’s experience told.”

Southgate deserves credit but accepts being in front and allowing the lead to slip away, as it did against both Columbia and Croatia, is something that needs to change. It could have made the difference between being one match away from a final and actually reaching it.

Future

Southgate joins that handful of England managers who can rightly feel they have done a good job at a major tournament.

The transformation in England’s fortunes that he brought about with a young squad made the nation proud of its team again as football fleetingly appeared to be ‘coming home’.

With key players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana hoping to return to the national set-up, Southgate’s options may be boosted ahead of Euro 2020, some of which will take place in the UK.

“We have to keep improving, and these guys will improve,” he asserted. “I think we’ve managed to get a lot from this group of players, and play in a way that highlighted some of our strengths and hid some of our weaknesses.”

England have taken significant strides towards becoming a team who work hard for each other and believe they can succeed. Winning two knockout games will have boosted their confidence, particularly the victory via a penalties against Colombia as England finally banished their World Cup shootout hoodoo.

Further improvements are needed, and some of England’s more inexperienced players need more game time for their clubs in the Premier League.

Southgate’s pool of talent is not a deep one, and England’s recent success in age-group tournaments won’t count for much if the young talents involved don’t get the chance to kick on at domestic level.

The future looks bright for England if those upcoming talents can be fully developed, and the senior team’s success in Russia will have fuelled their dreams of representing their nation.

The 2018 World Cup seemingly fired up the whole of England again after a period when successive poor tournaments had sapped the spirit and energy of supporters. Their achievements in Russia give Southgate and his young team, who made the country proud, a chance to take things to the next level.

England Three Lions photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons

Hughes appointment highlights a tired trend in English game

The recent appointment of Mark Hughes at Southampton outlines a greater problem within English football.

With few options for clubs to turn to mid-season, where are all the young British managers ready to step into the frame?

The Bundesliga has recently seen a shift from the old guard to the new – young managers under the age of 40, sometimes promoted from running youth sides, are being ushered through the door and making their mark in the league.

And as other European nations are still seeing an increases in their numbers of top-qualified coaches, it is now all the more important that both the FA and Premier League clubs begin cultivating a managerial revolution of their own.

Jobs for the old boys

So far, it appears that the only real managerial opportunities offered within the English game are for those who have had expansive playing careers.

Although if you do have those aforementioned playing credentials, it can seemingly be fairly easy to drag yourself out of managerial obscurity.

‘Whether it be Mark Hughes, Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce, the same merry-go-round of managers appears to be prevailing in the Premier League’

Phil Neville, with a pretty dismal record as a coach, was appointed England Women’s manager this year after reportedly not even applying for the job.

Then soon after came the appointment of his former team-mate, Ryan Giggs, as Wales national team manager. A poor playing record for his country, and a lack of managerial experience, meant that questions were raised.

Only time will tell as to whether their transition to the sidelines is a success or not, but it continues the trend of only employing familiar faces.

Hughes, on the other hand, is in the old guard of familiar Premier League faces. Undoubtedly, the former Man Utd, Barcelona, Chelsea and Saints striker has had varying success over the years and on occasions put together some excellent sides.

But if you considering he guided Stoke into the relegation places before being sacked earlier this season, was he really the best option Southampton had at their disposal?

Whether it be Hughes, Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce; the same merry-go-round of managers appears to be prevailing in the Premier League, and you feel it is beginning to become stale.

A German coaching renaissance

One young outlier in the Premier League would be Eddie Howe at Bournemouth; who was forced into early retirement due to injury, affording him a quick route into management.

Current Hoffenheim manager, Julian Nagelsman, similarly had his career cut short by injury. This immediately led him into coaching both Augsburg and Hoffenheim’s youth sides from 2008 to 2011.

A rapid rise within the infrastructure at Hoffenheim led him to be appointed assistant in 2012 and eventually manager in 2013, as then boss Huub Stevens suffered with health issues.

Still only 30, Nagelsmann has now reportedly been earmarked as the next Bayern Munich manager after almost guiding Hoffenheim to the Champions League group stage this season for the first time in the club’s history.

Nagelsmann has quickly been earmarked as the future of German Coaching. @achtzehn99en

Nagelsmann is now offering a fresh and exciting face to German football, to go along with coaches such as David Wagner (Huddersfield), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and Daniel Farke (Norwich) that have since departed Germany for the shores of England.

The Hoffenheim boss, unlike Howe at Bournemouth, is not the single example of this kind of internal promotion within the Bundesliga.

Domenico Tedesco, 32 (Schalke) and Hannes Wolf, 36 (Stuttgart) have all been similarly gifted the opportunity to coach early on at the highest level – both so far having great success and neither household names in German football.

Norwich City and Huddersfield Town so far have been the only clubs to make this move so far in England – both poaching their current managers from Borussia Dortmund, neither previously having top flight managerial experience.

Though Norwich currently sit in an underwhelming 13th in the Championship, it undoubtedly has been a gamble that has more than paid off for The Terriers.

After getting them promoted to the English top flight last season for the first time in more than 50 years, they currently sit 15th in the Premier League and strong survival prospects.

Whether clubs decide to begin promoting coaches internally in the Premier League remains to be seen. But with many experienced Premier League coaches staring down relegation this season, it may soon be the key to injecting fresh ideas into the first team.

Disparity in numbers

At a grass roots level, the coaching statistics suggest a lack of young coaches coming through – Matt Scott reported in the Guardian in 2010 that there were only 2,769 UEFA A, B and Pro Licence English coaches.

‘In Germany, it costs just £800 to take your UEFA A licence badge, whereas in England the same badge would set you back £2,965’

Spain on the other hand had 23,995, Italy 29,420 and Germany 34,790 top qualified coaches. After an official report was published back in 2007 that said coaching was the ‘golden thread’ to international success, it seems odd that English football still is yet to fully tackle this issue 11 years on.

The crux of the problem has always appeared to be funding – reported in 2016 that it still could set you back £4,000 in England and £5,000 in Scotland to gain all the badges required for an UEFA A licence – their seems to be little progress in terms of accessibility.

Just one example of the large disparity in pricing is in Germany; where it costs just £800 to take your UEFA A licence badge, whereas in England the same badge would set you back an extortionate £2,965.

It seems no surprise then that young coaches may be deterred from this career path, given that its a self-funded venture.

So far the FA has only reshaped the Level 1 and 2 badges to incorporate ‘fun’ back into it; along with releasing half of their coaching tutors after an internal review.

All these reactions however seem to be somewhat missing the point – young people who aspire to be coaches are not simply bored by the courses or are badly tutored – it’s the fact those in power have made these qualifications un-achievable to a large proportion of the population.

With all the money now in the English game, the thought of an in-accessible system to learn your coaching stripes should be ludicrous in this country. Yet, in 2018 it sadly is the reality.

As the revolving door of ex-player-turned-manager continues to spin and the FA continue to make no real effort to aid young coaches, British football is at risk of stagnating.

England Three Lions

Five things that need to change for England

After years of England underachieving in major tournaments, many Three Lions fans find themselves looking ahead to the 2018 World Cup Finals expecting little from their team beyond yet more failure.

If that sounds a bit harsh, cast your mind back to Euro 2016, and the implosion against Iceland – a country with a population of just 332,000.

That defeat sounded the death knell for manager Roy Hodgson, who also oversaw two losses and a draw (0-0 against Costa Rica) at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Understated current boss Gareth Southgate doesn’t play hype game, and has some decent young players at his disposal, but few believe England will really shine in Russia.

It may be too late for this summer, but there are still some things that could be put in place to boost their prospects on the biggest stages.

Winter break

It’s a commonly held belief that the likes of Spain Germany, France and Italy tend to do better at major tournaments because their domestic leagues take a mid-season winter break.

The argument runs that this gives players a chance to recharge their batteries, get over niggling injuries, and feel less burnt out come the end of the campaign.

There are, indeed, plenty of players getting injured during the December-January, when the Premier League fixtures come thick and fast, particularly over the festive period.

In December 2016, 113 missed games due to injury, and the figure rose in January 2017 to 143. There was 150 hamstring injuries in the 16/17 season which resulted in a total of 4,165 days missed.

England often go into tournaments missing key players through injury, or praying that no-one else picks up a knock in the early games.

Mind you, even without injuries, England performances in tournaments are often described as fatigued and boring.

Some claim the relentless physicality of the Premier League takes it toll, but is this – and not having a winter break – just a poor excuse for England’s underachievement?

Squad selection

Players are often picked on reputation and get the benefit of the doubt if they play for one of the so-called bigger teams; a prime example of this is Jordan Henderson.

His selection in the England squad is baffling when based on current form, and Southgate should now take him out of his plans and be ruthless like he was with Wayne Rooney.

Right now, players such as Jack Wilshere, Harry Winks and Eric Dier all offer more. Dropping Henderson and Gary Cahill would be just the start.

We’ve also had players switch allegiances. The main one that comes to mind is Wilfred Zaha, who represented England at under-19, under-21 and full international level in friendlies before opting to play for the country of his birth, Ivory Coast.

England have no one like him; skilful, pacy and unpredictable, someone who loves to take on and beat players.

Because his career at Manchester United didn’t work out for whatever reason, he found himself back at Crystal Palace putting in great performances but still being ignored by England which eventually led to him playing for Les Elephants.

What we will most likely see in the next major tournament is Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck being thrown out on the left wing, even though he is naturally a number nine, because he ‘works hard’ off the ball. It’s easy to see why Zaha made the decision to switch.

Taking responsibility

The players also need to take more responsibility. Making sure that they are mentally and physically able to deal with the expectations of international football is something that is forefront.

Good performances at major tournaments is key to re-gaining the enthusiasm of England fans.

One of the major things that has kept England from moving forward is the way they play. Being able to think for themselves is something that is easy to avoid at a club level, but it’s where the problems start in the international game.

England’s failure to express themselves under pressure, and actually looking scared to fail, has left them playing in stagnant, robotic patterns.

Compare England to a team like Wales who, although they only have one stand-out player in Gareth Bale, have a fearless and hardworking attitude that served them well at Euro 2016, beating Belgium, who were favourites to win the tournament, and then losing to eventual winners Portugal in the semi -finals.

If England take more risks and try to win games rather than trying not to lose them, they might stand a better chance.

High targets

The feeling exists that because the Premier League is deemed the best league in the world (which is a debate for another day), England should at least make the semi-finals at major tournaments.

But if you dig a bit deeper, you realise that most of the Premier League teams have large numbers of players from different countries playing for them.

Nearly 70% of players in the EPL are actually foreign, and this doesn’t leave much room for the young English talent to come through.

Prime examples of this are two of Chelsea’s many young players out on loan, Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both have not really been given a fair crack at Stamford Bridge because the club would rather go out and buy tried-and-tested foreign talent than giving their academy prospects a chance.

It is understandable that fans demand their clubs recruit world-class players, but if they don’t promote homegrown young players, the team that really suffers is England.

Without getting first team experience in the league and European competitions under their belt, the best young English players won’t realise their potential.

Do the fans care anymore?

Due to England’s lack of achievement, many in their fanbase England have lost interest in the team. Wembley is a great stadium but hardly ever sells out, and attendances are significantly lower for friendlies.

In my opinion, what would revive the interest in England is if the team went on the road.

By playing international matches all around the country, the team would reconnect with their fans, much as they did in the interim period when the new Wembley Stadium was being built.

England’s recent success at age-group tournaments shows they have reasons to be optimistic about the future, but only if these action points are turned in reality.

England Three Lions photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Give England job to the ‘Anti-Sam’

The ever-increasing probability of Gareth Southgate’s promotion to permanent England manager faces its final obstacle when Scotland visit Wembley.

As Matt Law reported earlier this week, barring a first defeat to the ‘auld enemy’ since 1999, The FA plans to formally appoint Southgate after the latest international break concludes with England’s friendly against Spain.

southgate-training
Southgate watches over England training at St. George’s Park. Pic. The Guardian.

The former central defender’s elevation has been met with scoffs and wry smiles alike throughout certain areas of the media.

Likewise, England supporters have been quick to display their lack of faith, through radio phone-ins, in the 46-year-old’s character.

Yet for every claim of Southgate serving only as an FA puppet, put in place as a PR move to calm the choppy waters created by Sam Allardyce’s dismissal, the former Middlesbrough manager can prove otherwise.

Southgate’s public persona is different to that of other managers.

His measured approach to reporter’s questions and intelligent manner whilst working as a pundit, breaks the mold of bashful characters such as Allardyce. In this respect Southgate is the Anti-Sam.

Intelligence within football has often been misconstrued as softness. Someone who dances to their own beat and displays a hint of quirkiness will, wrongly, raise eyebrows.

Strength of mind

Yet no player can survive in professional football having played upwards of 500 senior games, by being a soft touch. This insinuation about the former Crystal Palace defender simply isn’t true.

His decision to drop (or protect) captain Wayne Rooney for the World Cup qualifier in Slovenia, served to confirm Southgate’s strength of mind.

Steve McClaren had attempted the same tactic in 2006, by not picking David Beckham in his first squad as England manager. But the current England manager’s decision to address the media head on, sitting alongside Rooney, also demonstrated class and consideration for his players’ state of mind.

Modern players at the highest level will respond positively to a manager who shows they care about them, and Southgate clearly understands this. Rooney, who has many years of big-game experience, has been assured of his starting place against the Scots, another indication of his manager’s ability to ‘know his players’.

southgate-rooney
Wayne Rooney will start tonight’s game, Southgate has confirmed. Pic. The Guardian.

Gaining such knowledge around the mindset of young people, some of who are 20 years his junior, comes as a bi-product of years of experience within The FA’s infrastructure.

Appointed as Head of Elite Development in 2011, the man who represented his country 57 times would later become England Under 21s manager in 2013.

Southgate’s reign saw the development and progression of players such as John Stones, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane into the full squad, as well as a tournament victory in Toulon during the summer; the first for 22 years.

Euro 2016 proved that England are a long way from winning a major tournament.

The FA’s mission of reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2020, followed by the aim of becoming World Champions in 2022 appeared in tatters as Roy Hodgson’s team lay dejected amongst the Viking-clapping Icelandic team.

But the mission still has six years until completion, so why stop now? And who better to take the reigns than someone who understands from top to bottom, exactly what the aim is and the process in place to achieve it.

A long list of clubs and national federations have successfully promoted from within in recent years, creating a pathway for former players to learn their trade within age-group football, before stepping into first-team management.

That is by no means to suggest that herein lays the magic formula to success; there are many variables that determine the outcome of any appointment.

But as an intelligent, media-savvy, strong-minded and experienced coach with a working knowledge of young players, England should look no further than Southgate.

Three players unlucky to miss out on England’s latest squad

When the England squad was announced on Sunday via Twitter for the Three Lions’ upcoming fixtures against Scotland and Spain, a host of frustrated names were omitted.

The likes of Jermain Defoe, Wilfried Zaha and Adam Forshaw to name a few, were all mentioned as players deserving of a call-up, especially compared to some of those selected by interim manager Gareth Southgate.

However, the decision to omit three other players in particular, continues to come under scrutiny – and rightly so.

Charlie Austin

After a lacklustre start to life at Southampton, Austin is now finally starting to replicate the form he displayed at QPR in the 2014-15 Premier League season.

So far this campaign across all competitions, the 27-year-old has registered more goals (eight) than any other England forward, making his exclusion from the England squad a surprise to most.

“Does Austin have the pace of Vardy or the technical finesse of Sturridge? Probably not, but in his current form he is arguably a more viable option than the pair”

The Southampton striker is outperforming both Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, who have been called up as attacking options despite the different problems they are currently facing at their respective clubs, and Southgate’s failure to recognise such is a concern going forward.

Too often in the past with England, it has felt like that the inclusion of certain players has been based on club and reputation rather than form and, judging by this showing, things are unlikely to change should Southgate become Roy Hodgson’s permanent successor.

Does Austin have the pace of Vardy or the technical finesse of Sturridge? Probably not, but in his current form he is arguably a more viable option than the pair.

Nathan Redmond

Redmond
©Wikimedia Commons

Austin’s Southampton team-mate Redmond has also started the season in good fashion and can count himself unlucky to have been denied the opportunity to make the jump from the England Under-21s to the senior squad.

The 22-year-old is relishing the forward role Saints boss Claude Puel has been deploying him in, chalking up three Premier League goals in the process of forming a promising partnership with Austin.

Redmond’s £11m transfer from Norwich City in the summer is already being touted as one of the signings of the season and given his performances to date, it is a view that is not hard to fathom.

Like Austin’s predicament, it is difficult to understand why Redmond has not been called up bearing in mind some of Southgate’s other inclusions.

Despite operating as a striker since his transfer, Redmond is naturally a winger blessed with pace and great dribbling ability.

While Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott are likely to occupy the wide positions for England’s game against Scotland on Friday, Redmond would have been a solid option for Southgate to have and a much better alternative to Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend — who have both done nothing to warrant a call-up.

Redmond is far from the finished article. But Puel is crafting him into a fine and more consistent player, who without a doubt deserved to be included in England’s latest squad.

Ben Gibson

After a long absence from the Premier League, Middlesbrough can be pleased with how things have gone since their return to the top flight.

They sit 15th in the table and Aitor Karanka’s men have put in some good defensive performances of late to add to the five out of nine points they have collected in their most recent fixtures against Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester City.

©Middlesbrough FC’s official Instagram account

Central defender Gibson in particular has been singled out for praise, especially for his performance away at the Emirates in which he helped inspire his side to a point and clean sheet against an Arsenal team boasting the attacking talents of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and an in-form Walcott.

With that in mind, in addition to the current options England have at the back, Gibson’s omission from Southgate’s squad has raised eyebrows.

Chris Smalling is out injured, Gary Cahill has been shambolic when not playing in a back three (something England will not implement) and John Stones always looks like he has a costly mistake in him.

Then there is of course Phil Jagielka, likely to still be recovering physically and mentally from the battering he got from Diego Costa last Saturday in Everton’s 5-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Gibson should feel hard done by, he has done more than enough to earn the chance to win his first international senior cap.

Featured image: ©Southampton FC‘s official Instagram account