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Opinion

Gareth Southgate starring in the Emperor’s New Clothes

4 weeks ago
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For Newcastle United fans watching England play in these Euro 2020 finals, the commentary / punditry regarding Gareth Southgate is so recognisable.

After having endured an entire season of all 38 of Newcastle United’s 2020/21 Premier League games having been shown live, you simply had to replace the name of Steve Bruce with Gareth Southgate and the narratives were / are the same.

When it comes to the pundits and commentators, nothing is ever the fault of Gareth Southgate (or Steve Bruce).

Any small positive from England is magnified ridiculously and relentlessly talked about, with Southgate mentioned at every turn.

As for any ‘small’ negatives…all the pundits, journalists, commentators blame everybody but Gareth Southgate!

Only because England got lucky and scored with one of their two (TWO) efforts on target (and only one corner) against Croatia, it covered up a multitude of sins for me. Southgate’s ultra negative set up meant the service to the likes of Kane was all but non-existent but because it ended in a win, that is all the media want to tell us about, they know a feel good story sells. If the Croatia keeper (which he probably should have done as it was straight at him and he got a hand to it) had saved Sterling’s shot and the match had ended 0-0, what great positives would there have been to pick out of it, apart from Foden hitting the post?

The commentators / pundits going on about what a great side Croatia are. No they are not. They peaked in 2018 when also getting a very fortune run of opposition (sounds familiar???) all the way to the final, then qualified from a poor group (also very familiar!) winning only five of eight games, for Euro 2020. However, that qualification was completed two years ago and the decline has been rapid since then, Croatia now have won only two of their last 11 matches and their best players are on the way out age wise, such reliance on Modric who turns 36 in September, whilst it was 32 year old Perisic who got their goal yesterday against the Czechs. Croatia only had one other effort on target against the Czech Republic (who were the better team I thought) and were lucky to get a 1-1 draw after going behind. Scotland aren’t great but Croatia are now so poor, I think the Scots have a favourite’s chance of beating them on Tuesday and progressing.

On Friday night it was well and truly Emperor’s New Clothes time, all the pundits, journalists and commentators pointing to everything but the most glaringly obvious, as to why England were so shockingly poor.

The Gareth Southgate over the top negative tactics playing totally into Scotland’s hands. No Grealish, no Sancho and the same old boring tactics. Steve Clarke must have loved it looking at the England teamsheet and the tactics, endless passing it backwards and sideways, Harry Kane totally starved of the ball. The ‘experts’ saying he was really poor, I’m not sure how anybody can judge when he was never given any service? Again, for Newcastle fans it was just like watching Brucey’s football most of the time, the likes of Callum Wilson or Joelinton completely isolated.

What makes it even worse with Gareth Southgate though, is that he has some stunning players who he refuses to play. Jordan Sancho hasn’t even played a minute yet in this tournament, Jack Grealish got 27 minutes last night.

During the woeful first 63 minutes against Scotland, the commentators kept saying not to worry because Gareth Southgate can change things with some great attacking options on the bench. You need them on all game! Grealish got 27 minutes and Rashford 16 minutes, the only two subs, yet Gareth Southgate took off Foden and Kane, England’s two most forward players! Grealish was brought on and isolated on the left, at one point he beat a few players and was keeping a number of defenders at bay, looked up and saw pretty much the whole of the rest of the England team standing back down the pitch watching him, with next to no support for him. Why not bring Grealish and Rashford (and Sancho!) and play them with Foden and Kane????

Gareth Southgate was terrible as a manager at Middlesbrough, got them relegated and was sacked. Couldn’t get another half decent job in management and later went to work for the FA as England Under 21s manager. A bit like the Civil Service or Local Government, he hung around long enough and has eventually got promoted to the top job. Never having previously achieved anything as a manager.

No arguments about Gareth Southgate as an ambassador for England / The FA, he talks very well and would be great as CEO or whatever, just not as the manager.

He has been so lucky, both at Under 21 level and now the senior team, to have the job(s) when England have so many good players come through, it has massively helped cover up his shortcomings as a manager.

Every time in World Cup and Euro qualification, England are seeded and get a whole lot of cannon fodder lined up to easily beat. Any of us could manage England through to the finals with the players that are available and quality of opposition.

It is not very different when we get to the finals, a charmed life in the groups we land in. This (Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland) is a pretty poor group yet Gareth Southgate has us crawling towards the qualification line. Imagine if we were instead in the France, Germany and Portugal group??? In friendlies and the Nations League, which is effectively just friendlies as well really, England tend to do better and that is the case under Gareth Southgate, other countries try stuff out in friendlies and aren’t so bothered about results, with England though we always approach every match the same and consequently friendly results are almost always better than competitive ones, against the better teams, under and manager.

What about 2018 though? What about it indeed.

Of course it was great seeing England progress BUT at the same time you couldn’t deny (well all of the pundits and commentators pretty much could) what an incredibly easy path Gareth Southgate had and yet still nearly blew it a number of times.

England played seven matches and lost three of them in the 2018 World Cup finals. Losing twice to Belgium and once to Croatia, they beat Colombia on penalties and Tunisia only in added time, the only convincing wins were against a very average Sweden (2-0) and no-hopers Panama.

Checking back on the stats in some of those games, only two shots on target against Colombia in over two hours of football, scored with the only two shots on target against Sweden, only two efforts on target against Croatia in over two hours of football (via BBC Sport stats).

Gareth Southgate might get lucky, after all, he only needs to pick the right players and get England on the front foot and who knows.

Pick Kane, Grealish, Foden, Sancho, maybe even Bellingham, change the tactics and as I say, get England on the front foot and likes of Sancho and Grealish running at the Czech defence on Tuesday, get the full-backs up the pitch as well getting in crosses for Kane and other players getting in the box.

With Southgate’s luck he may well stumble through a couple of knockout rounds because of course England could end up playing the likes of Sweden, Slovakia, Wales or whoever in last 16 and last 8. However, once we play anybody of consequence, his negative set-up will hand a massive advantage to the opposition, especially if also leaving the players on the bench who are capable of beating their opponent and making things happen.

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