League of Nations – Before Italy – England: Gareth Southgate and the impossible job

League of Nations – Before Italy – England: Gareth Southgate and the impossible job

It is not for nothing that the great British football journalist Brian Glanville titled his book on the managers of the England team The Impossible Job. All the coaches who have succeeded since the potentates of the FA finally decided, in 1946, later than any other footballing nation, to entrust to one man the task of choosing the players who would represent their country. bitter experience of inconsiderate waiting from the media and public opinion.

From Walter Winterbottom, who nevertheless survived sixteen years before the press forced him to leave his post following a disappointing 1962 World Cup in Chile, to Sam Allardyce, who lasted only sixty-seven days in 2016, time to be trapped by the Daily Telegraph, there is not an English coach whose reign has not ended in failure – and by a dismissal or a resignation. Not even the 1966 world title could save Alf Ramsey when his England failed to qualify for the 1974 tournament.

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Ramsey, Robson…

Ramsey was fired, sidelined, not to say scrapped. Bobby Robson, the only one, without doubt, to have left his role with his head held high after Italia 1990, had not been spared either, to the point that his decision to withdraw had been taken even before the competition opened. . He couldn’t stand the gall and the poison that was poured on him in the columns of the English tabloids.

By comparison, Gareth Southgate will have fared much better than his predecessors – so far. The circumstances in which he was chosen, when the candidates were not jostling at the door of the FA, the constant progress of his team, the place he made there for the finest generation of young English footballers to appear since decades, the self-assurance and dignity with which he fully assumed his responsibilities as the spokesperson for an England that was inclusive, tolerant and open to the rest of the world, all of which meant that, although he was not untouchable, when we touched Southgate, it was always with respect.

For now.

Gareth Southgate

Credit: Getty Images

Because the first cracks, which appeared after Italy had prevented England from finally winning a second major international title (“why so much caution in the game when Shaw had opened the mark?” “why entrust Sancho, Rashford and Saka with taking care of the last three penalty kicks?”), have since grown.

0-4 against Hungary

In England, nobody paid too much attention to the current edition of the League of Nations, integrated with forceps in an overloaded calendar, before the selection obtained the worst results there of the Southgate era. Losing to Hungary in Budapest is still happening. Losing 0-4 against the same opponent in Wolverhampton, no. To be dead last in Group A3, with two points out of twelve, no, no and again no.

With the World Cup in Qatar less than two months away, any further slippage would provide a perfect excuse for critics who like nothing better than to weaken whoever is in charge of England. This curious masochism has its roots in the feeling, less lively than before, but still present, in particular in the Sun and other tabloids, that any other place than the first constitutes a failure for the nation which gave birth to football.

Even those who will be the first to draw if Southgate and his team stumble against Italy this Friday and Germany next Monday know that England, World Cup semi-finalist and Euro finalist , is enjoying its most prosperous period since the coronation of 1966. They also know that its current and rather flattering rank in the FIFA world rankings – fifth – reflects the considerable progress their selection has made since Sam Allardyce gave way to Gareth Southgate.

The fate of Maguire and Shaw will be scrutinized

But that is not enough for them. An England which works well, but which is still far from being able to claim to dominate the world, is not enough for them either: it is an England without stories, and these are stories that they intend to count, even if it means setting them up all the time. rooms.

It’s not just the performances and results of the two upcoming matches that they’ll be keeping an eye on. They will also follow very closely the fate that Southgate will reserve for two of the pillars of the team he led to the final of Euro 2020, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, both victims of the reboot of Manchester United orchestrated by Erik ten Hag. Between them, the Mancunian defenders had participated in eleven meetings of the Three Lions during the final phase of the European championship. Between them, they have played a total of 325 minutes in the Premier League and 110 in the Europa League this season.

Harry Maguire

Credit: Getty Images

The fall was sudden and brutal. Their last appearance as holders dates back to August 13, when Brentford pulverized Manchester United (4-0). Ten Hag had lost patience with Shaw from the break of this rout. He has not reappeared since.

The following matches proved the Dutch technician right. With Maguire and Shaw in their starting XI, United had lost their first three meetings of the season – two in the Premier League, one in the Europa League, to terror Real Sociedad – by a combined score of 1-7; and MU are undefeated since they are gone. MU beat Liverpool and Arsenal. MU is doing better, much better, and, except for injury, it is hard to imagine Maguire blowing a place from Raphaël Varane or Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw taking that of the excellent Tyrrell Malacia on the return from this international break.

Southgate loyal like Deschamps

Like many other coaches, Didier Deschamps certainly being no exception, Gareth Southgate attaches great importance to the loyalty shown by his players in the past – a loyalty he returns to them. After the Russian World Cup, when players like Danny Rose, Danny Welbeck, Gary Cahill and Ashley Young were still entering his plans, he came to rely on a group whose composition has changed very little compared to the one who played Euro 2020.

The pillars are in place. Many “those of 2018” are still there, such as Pickford (absent against Italy due to injury), Walker, Henderson, Trippier, Rashford, Kane and Sterling, to which have been added the representatives of the new wave who have since broken through, such as Saka, Sancho, Mount, Grealish, Rice and Bellingham.

Jadon Sancho – England

Credit: Getty Images

Not two months ago, the names of Maguire and Shaw would have been among the first names to be included in this list; but today, from the category of “certain”, they have moved to that of “possible”, waiting to be excluded from this one if the wind does not turn in their favor within their club. Because if Southgate has so far held the door ajar for them, they may well lock it soon.

It’s not ideal“, he admitted during a recent press briefing during which their particular cases had been mentioned, “but they were, and can be, important players for us. The situation is not yet perfect, but there is still a lot of football to be played before Qatar“. Eight league days, to be precise.

For now, he seems to have decided to persevere with – at least – Maguire, although he is clearly aware that this choice could backfire. “It’s important to support our best players“, he let go on the eve of this Italy-England. “Whatever reputation I have [acquise], I bring it into play here. He is our most dominant centre-back in the aerial game. Him and and John [Stones] are amazing in possession of the ball – [pensez à] the pressure they’ve had to accept for the team in tournaments, because we don’t always have the pivot in midfield to take the game forward. There’s huge pressure on our centre-backs to do well use the ball, and these two do it as well as anyone in the world“.

Whatever reputation I have [acquise]I put it into play here“. Let him trust the duo, and it will be said that he let heart prevail over reason. Let him dismiss it, and we will highlight their contribution – that of Shaw, in particular. – during a Euro which was very close to ending in triumph; and that their replacements are at fault on a decisive action, it will be a disaster.

The British have a catch phrase for this: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t“. For a bit, it could serve as a motto for any England coach, Gareth Southgate included.

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