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Thursday, February 9, 2023

England and Southgate at crossroads after 2022 World Cup disappointment

In the crushing disappointment of the moment, Gareth Southgate was exasperated. Having watched England exit the 2022 World Cup at the quarter-final stage, the 52-year-old admitted he would require some time to reflect on his future. The Three Lions and their manager find themselves at a crossroads.

Many believed Southgate’s time in charge had been building to the 2022 tournament in Qatar. Four years ago in Russia, expectations were low, but England still managed to reach the final four. At Euro 2020, the squad was stronger and England handled loftier expectations, but lost to Italy in a penalty shootout in the final.

The 2022 World Cup was meant to be where the Venn diagram of talent and experience overlapped for England. They looked dangerous in the five matches they played at Qatar and entered the quarter-finals as the tournament’s top scorers. But defeat to France has opened up old wounds for a country accustomed to glorious failure.

For all that England have undeniably improved under Southgate, they have faltered against almost every high-calibre opponent they have faced at the last three major tournaments – Germany at Euro 2020 being the one exception. Southgate’s conservative approach doesn’t get the best out of England’s attacking talent.

This is where The FA have a difficult decision to make. Is there another manager out there who could take Southgate’s foundations and build on them to achieve even greater success? England have an extremely talented group of players, but is their current manager enough of a difference-maker at the elite level?

Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel have both been mentioned as potential candidates to succeed Southgate with the pair reportedly keen on the England job. Both managers are currently out of work and so it’s possible The FA could make a fuss-free appointment should they decide to make a change over the next few weeks and months.

Pochettino and Tuchel are both hands-on coaches in terms of their training ground methods, which raises questions about their suitability for the international game where their time on the training pitch would be limited. However, the appointment of either manager would be a significant statement of intent.

Steven Gerrard is another out-of-work manager who has been recently linked with the England job. The 42-year-old is a former Three Lions captain and would command the respect of the dressing room, but his conservative approach would be similar to the one that has drawn a lot of criticism for Southgate over the last few years.

Brendan Rodgers could be persuaded to leave Leicester City for the right job and there’s good reason to believe the Northern Irishman would impose a more attack-minded style of play on the England team. However, Rodgers has a shelf-life as a manager and so his appointment would be a short-term ploy.

Southgate himself might take the decision out of The FA’s hands by walking away from the England job. The 52-year-old is aware of the opportunity in front of England to win a major tournament and seems to have a genuine interest in ensuring the Three Lions lift a World Cup or European Championship trophy, even if he’s not the one to deliver the success.

“I don’t want to be four, five months down the line thinking I’ve made the wrong call,” Southgate explained. “It’s too important for everybody to get that wrong. I’ve found large parts of the last 18 months difficult. “There are lots of things in my head that are really conflicted at the moment, so what I want to make sure, if it’s the right thing to stay, is that I’ve definitely got the energy to do that.”

The England job is one of the most draining positions in all of soccer. The scrutiny Southgate has been placed under since his appointment in 2016 has left him exhausted and whoever succeeds him will enter the same scenario. This is something that could put off candidates like Pochettino and Tuchel that The FA might be considering.

There is more to the England job than just coaching the team on the pitch. Southgate has acted as a figurehead for the sport for the country and whoever replaces him will be required to conduct themselves in the same way. In the end, continuity might be the best way forward, but if a change will improve England as a team, it must be made.

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