The concept of a hero has always been simple right? Do the job, get the glory, get the girl and ride off into the sunset. With the England job, it’s never been that straightforward. Many quarters have referred to it as the ultimate job for any Englishman. The pressure that comes with the job is unreal. The expectations are often set too high and the media always seems to have an input in everything, especially who should play and who should not. It’s a vicious way of life. After Allardyce’s disgraceful exit months back, the need for a replacement, albeit short term, quickly took precedence. The pool to choose from was not particularly brimming so the one person that was on everybody’s mind was finally said out loud; GARETH SOUTHGATE. The man who a few months had rejected the job stating he was not ready and his failures in the first team might tarnish the rest of his (bright) career. There was a mixed reaction to this. What would happen now? Would he reject the job again? The FA, being one of the most predictable associations I know went ahead and offered Southgate the job but there was a catch. The four upcoming games were essentially his interview. His performance against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain would be taken into consideration about whether to offer him the job.
Thank God he accepted the job. But you have to question what changed all of a sudden. It was just about a month. Where did he suddenly get the feel that he was now ready? His first act was to meet with Rooney and assure him that he would remain his captain despite not starting for Man United in three games. Southgate has never shied away from anything and his honest and confrontational nature has probably got him where he is right now. “I am not too nice to be England manager” was among the first thing he said as he settled down for his interim press conference. He also made it clear that Rooney would not have the freedom he had been granted by his predecessor. ‘’He knows what’s best for the team and he can therefore play WHEREVER HE WANTS.’’ These words are going to haunt Sam Allardyce forever. How could he say such a thing? One might deduce that Rooney was being given preferential treatment by his manager. ‘carte blanche’ remarks, as referred to by the guardian.
With that declaration, Southgate was putting his foot down. He appreciated Rooney’s efforts for the game against Malta but stated he had the courage to drop Rooney. He followed this up by dropping him for the game against Slovenia. Why everyone was shocked I don’t know. Rooney has always been the focus of criticism in international colors. Perhaps they couldn’t believe that he was finally being set aside. It’s hard to trace the last time in his 13 year international career that Rooney was benched yet he was fit. What was coming out was that Southgate was not too nice after all. He had an idea of how his team should play and was determined to tread that path.
Southgate has always been a big fan of a possession based style of play. He wants his players to think two moves ahead before even receiving the ball. One only needs to look at Alli’s movements – the typical Southgate type of player, who has started Southgate’s last two games in charge- to know what the man stands for. As such, he encourages his players to be prospective thinkers. Midfielders should always look up at which forward is free and the forwards should be looking to create the space to receive the pass. A very intricate style of play. Back to Rooney, his deployment to midfield by his various managers has been in part due to his ability to hit the cross balls. Gorgeous balls to say the least but often done under little or no pressure thereby making it an easy task, that’s using Mourinho’s sentiments.
Rooney has lost a considerable part of his attacking instincts. His pace is off, he’s lost his magical first touch and the game against Watford was nothing short of criminal. Due to adaptation, most of the balls he distributes are either back passes, diagonal balls or horizontal balls. Meanwhile the Southgate type of player is running forward anticipating a forward pass. Against Malta, dozens of runs actually went to waste and led to frustrations from Rooney’s teammates. It was only fair for him to be replaced and in his place Eric Dier, a very bright player and England’s next captain. Yes, I said it.
The Slovenia game ended in a stalemate and Southgate didn’t mince his words stating that he had inherited ‘a mess’. Finally England had a manager who had no grey areas; just black and white. After a few hours, of course at the behest of the Football Association he was forced to clarify what the word mess meant but the dice has already been cast.
His next two games are quite difficult. A qualifier against Scotland on Friday. A game that is already frothing and on the verge of an emotional outburst due to the history of the two countries and a friendly against Spain four days later. Bar recent performances, Spain is still way above England and are one of the best passing teams right now. The inclusion of players like Isco, Vasquez and Nolito into the team are also changing the dynamic nature of the Spanish team with the injection of pace. These two games are hardly the right environment for Southgate to flex his tactical muscles. A lot of quarters feel he will approach this one from a conservative point of view but then again Southgate is ‘ballsy’ than people think.
He has stated that Rooney will captain the side tonight as he has the sharpness and confidence as compared to last time. This is definitely true as his performances in the last two games have been above average to say the least. At the University of Derby last week in a lecture provided by Gareth Southgate aptly covered by the Guardian, he stated that the best way to handle players is to be honest with them so as to get the best out of them. Looking at his track record, its easy to see why this scenario has worked for him. From his Middlesbrough days when he had to let former teammates go so that the team could move forward to his handling of the U21 s and his honest view as regards players, most notably his open criticism of Loftus Cheek when the U21s crashed out of the European championship.
It remains to be seen what Southgate will conjure up. The FA chairman came out and stated these two performances won’t be used to judge Southgate’s ability. Perhaps he’s just trying to get the caretaker to take it easy or he is simply deflecting the intensity of the media on the 46 year old. He will have to come out and prepare his team from the obvious pressure once they step onto the field. England V Scotland has always been the go-to game and this looks to be a classic. England will have to approach the game with a cool head. I get the feeling a good number of young players will be fielded tonight so they have to embrace the intensity that comes with the game. a true test of character. An early goal for the visitors or a sudden rush of blood to the head and Southgate’s style of play may actually go out the window.
All in all Southgate is the man for the job. I’ve repeated this line for over a year now. Feel free to type in a better candidate in the comments section. See you on the other side Gareth Southgate.