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England have outgrown Gareth Southgate as Euro 2024 looms

England’s defeat to France in the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals felt like the end of something. A cycle that started with the Three Lions reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020 appeared to conclude with the failure to make the last four in Qatar.

And yet Gareth Southgate remained in place as manager.

For a number of years, Southgate was the right manager at the right time for England. He made the national team camp a healthy one again. He galvanised the dressing room, an oft-cited factor in England’s rise.

Now, though, England need a sharper tactical mind to get the most out of their players.

This was made clear by England’s insipid performance in the 1-1 draw against Ukraine last week. While the result was far from disgraceful, the display of Southgate’s team raised plenty questions about his leadership of the national team. Many now believe England would be better off with another manager in charge.

It has even been reported that Southgate is expected to step aside as England manager after Euro 2024 with The FA hoping to line up Pep Guardiola as his replacement. Guardiola reportedly wants to take on an international job at some point in his career and England could potentially be a good fit for him.

With Euro 2024 a year away, though, The FA must ask itself if persisting with Southgate until then is worth it. England possess one of the strongest squads in international soccer at this moment in time. They should be aiming to win major tournaments. Is Southgate sharp enough in his tactical nous to deliver?

Of course, international managers don’t always get time on the training pitch to implement intricate tactical ideas. This could be an issue for Guardiola should he take over from Southgate after next summer’s European Championships. England might not need one of the best tactical minds to fulfil their potential.

“The reality is we’re not going to win every game by fours and sevens as we’ve done in this qualifying campaign,” said Southgate after the 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Euro 2024 qualifying. “That was a really good test, away from home, in a very passionate atmosphere. We had quite a few changes forced from the last game. Sometimes, especially with attacking play, it doesn’t quite click.”

Southgate is a conservative coach by his nature. He likes to set up his teams to be solid in the centre of the pitch, but this often comes in place of creativity. Phil Foden and James Maddison, for instance, have struggled to play their best soccer for England with the latter underwhelming in the match against Ukraine.

Jordan Henderson started the Euro 2024 qualifier in Wroclaw despite the 33-year-old now playing his club soccer in Saudi Arabia. Southgate surely could have used Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice as a double pivot with a more creative midfielder positioned in between the lines of midfield and attack. 

Harry Maguire’s continued selection has also generated a line of questioning line over Southgate’s loyalty to certain players. Maguire is out of favour at Manchester United and looked rusty in his performance against Ukraine with his erratic passing a real issue for the Three Lions. This prevented England from building out from the back. 

Levi Colwill and Fikayo Tomori would be a better fit for that role in the England defence with the former particularly comfortable on the ball. Many believe Colwill should be a key figure for the Three Lions by the time Euro 2024 kicks off, but Southgate has only just called up the 20-year-old to his squad for the first time.

There’s still time for Southgate to retool England before next summer, he might have to change as a coach and a manager to truly unlock the full potential of his team. The 2022 World Cup was the first time England had taken a step backwards under his stewardship and so he must prove he can move them forwards again. That isn’t happening as things stand. 

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