After a night in which everything went wrong for England, many of the fans who abused Gareth Southgate could admit that he got it right.
“It’s totally up to me,” the coach said, after a historic defeat to Hungary for the national team.
Only one problem, however, is that many could interpret it much more deeply than Southgate intended. The growing feeling, always persistent but articulated so aggressively by a furious crowd in Molineux, is that it is “time to leave”; which depends on him because he has never been so good.
Sure, it’s hard, but it could actually point to the most significant consequence of the night, beyond any pure football problem within the team or even a loss of momentum. Is that, for the first time, Southgate is facing the really toxic atmosphere that has finally engulfed every coach in England.
The added danger is that it would not take too long to turn around completely, that any bad result could be similar to the 0-0 draw with Algeria in 2010, or the 1-1 draw with Russia at the start of the Euro 2016. Southgate, meanwhile, faced off in a typically frank press conference following this 4-0 defeat.
“I know the role,” Southgate said, when asked specifically about a position long known as the “impossible job”. “I knew the role before I took it on. I saw all my predecessors go through it, great people like Sir Bobby Robson and how he looked.
“If the flak gets in my way, I have to face it. It’s unrealistic to have the trip I’ve had for five years and not be criticized.”
It was an admirable prospect considering how impressive the result was at night, but that was the sense that Southgate radiated.
He was basically saying that it didn’t matter without saying it explicitly. He pointed out the time of the season, the unnecessary length of this break, the lack of friendlies before the World Cup and, ultimately, how he had to rotate the team as a result of all this.
This meant that England never had, as Southgate put it, their “strongest team”.
“I don’t think it’s detrimental to the group’s mentality because it hasn’t been strong enough for any of the parties. That is the key factor. “
Southgate experienced a toxic atmosphere in Molineux
(AFP via Getty Images)
An unfair reading of this would be that the England coach was actually despising some of his secondary players, and even “throwing them under a bus”.
That wasn’t it, though. It was more Southgate saying he was too experimental in terms of team balance, and often left England without enough experience.
This, in addition to the rest, caused more gaps than usual in this team and far fewer goals.
England only scored one of those four games, and that was a penalty. She was probably the most convicting of a series of alarming figures for Southgate in this race, perhaps even beyond the historical scale of Hungary’s result.
Marco Rossi’s cheerful press conference, where he spoke about the possibility of a minute’s silence in Hungary when he dies, noted the reality that these games represent more opportunities for nations below the higher level. This is related to the fact that most of their players have had far fewer minutes over the long seasons.
This is relevant and needs to be repeated. That’s why, as Southgate claimed to be referring to, “other teams across Europe have experienced” problems similar to those in England. All of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Belgium have had surprises in this break.
But there is a difference, which marks another genuine note of concern for Southgate from these results.
Most of these teams have done more than one convincing performance. They have all shown an offensive idea. This is an element that still seems to be missing in Southgate England, which remains the main source of criticism.
There is this persistent argument that he is far from being an elite coach, whatever his suitability as a managerial figure.
England suffered a landslide defeat to Hungary
England are too rigid, too structured defensively, too inefficient to use their abundant talent. The main argument on the side is that many other coaches could benefit much more from this group, which is one of the strongest in world football.
Something might be true, but some warnings are needed.
England has abundant talent resources in some areas, but is sorely lacking in others. The abundance of number 10 and wide forwards they have now, which for so long was lacking in the country, is offset by the lack of an elite passenger in the middle of the field. The valuable availability of a proven scorer at Harry Kane, which so many countries are now asking for, especially Germany and Spain, is being undermined by the absence of a top-tier central midfielder.
All of this means that Southgate has to make ongoing commitments to his team, but it’s just his nature to always lean towards the Conservative.
That may still work in international football, though. This has been demonstrated by Portugal in 2016 and France in 2018, two parts that have shown examples to follow for Southgate.
There is also a kind of myth about international football, which has lasted from a reality now consigned to an increasingly distant past.
Is that the highest level of the game, with the most demanding managers, where all the elite coaches reside.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In general, Southgate does not face elite executives. The vast majority of them now work in the club game, because this is where most of the money and most of the glory is.
Harry Kane looks down when the miserable series of English League of Nations matches is over
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are doing things at this level that are impossible for international coaches. If Southgate were to leave, potential candidates would probably not be close to that kind of quality.
That’s why this is a problem that is often exaggerated, as evidenced by the fact that Southgate itself reached its heyday last summer. This points to one of two factors that could really complicate this for England, however.
The first is that, in a break of almost every last two decades, this World Cup will feature two coaches who are really around the elite level.
Both the Spanish Luis Enrique and the German Hansi Flick have recently won the Champions League. To get an idea of the impact this is, the last time a World Cup coach won the club’s top prize even a decade before the tournament was Vicente Del Bosque in 2010. lift the Champions League eight years earlier. Most of the other European Cup winning coaches have worked on a World Cup long after their best moment.
But now there is the disturbing question of whether Southgate’s reign in England has passed its best moment; if we are now at the bottom of a cycle.
Some people in Germany ‘s 1-1 draw in Munich commented on some of the similarities with the last four years of Jogi Loew’ s time, where something that had worked was slowly coming to an end. little. Meanwhile, other long-term observers from England claim that this has similar characteristics to, for example, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 4-1 defeat to Denmark in 2005; that point where it only goes down and resentment for it all goes up.
Similarly, it is easy to forget the popularity that the Swede had previously been in England. That was all but never making it past the quarterfinals.
Southgate has surpassed it in its two tournaments.
Relatively relaxed after the Hungarian game given the circumstances, the England coach has also been quick to point out that all the “pressure” he has faced comes from the League of Nations campaigns, which have had many complications. This has been the case since the late 2020 matches in preparation for the European Championships, and now it is similar.
“The irony is that they are in the League of Nations matches. In other matches, we have had the best performances in 50 years.”
England fans pitted Southgate on defeat to Hungary and now have questions about their tactics
That is why, of course, any talk of replacing him before the World Cup should be ruled out without any hesitation. There are too many warnings. There is too good a record in tournaments. Overall, England is too good a team.
Rossi reiterated that they are among the favorites at the World Cup and that it was “a miracle” that his Hungarian team had beaten them.
The chance of glory is as good as ever, even allowing this defeat.
That’s the pressure that’s really on Southgate, though. The FA has long had the 2022 World Cup, more than anything else, as its hallmark of glory. It has long been believed that this is when many elements, especially the development of a talented generation, can come together at the right time.
That is why, whatever the rest, this result has come at the wrong time. Everyone involved wanted this international rupture to end as soon as it began.
Now they are left to stop all summer without the possibility of rectifying it soon. This will be the case for Southgate more than anyone.