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England will be major contenders at Qatar 2022, but Southgate must unleash flair

The bottom line is simple. Gareth Southgate might have stumbled at the final hurdle but he has done what he set out to do almost five years ago.

He has established the England team as a powerhouse of international football.

Not the most flamboyant, not the most technically gifted, not the most attractive to watch, but a genuine force.

A World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final do not lie.

This England, the England who lost to Iceland at Euro 2016, is back amongst the elite.

This is a squad that will be EXPECTED to go deep into World Cup 2022.

Gareth Southgate has taken a conservative approach to games throughout Euro 2020

My hunch is that Southgate will see Qatar as his final frontier as the manager of the national team.

It is a job with unique demands that would test the mental strength of any manager over the course of a year or two, never mind over half a dozen.

After 2022, it might be time for a new challenge and who could blame him?

Club management is a doddle compared to this. Rafa Benitez has hardly been stuffing many trophy cabinets in recent seasons and has just walked into a £7million-a-year job.

If 50-year-old Southgate wants to try and clamber aboard that millionaires’ merry-go-round, you would certainly understand.

You do not have to be a guardian of the country’s morals when you are at a club. Three points will do.

But for now, there is definitely unfinished business for Southgate.

Phil Foden and Jack Grealish are among England's brightest talents
Phil Foden and Jack Grealish are among England’s brightest talents

And if he does eventually want to make the crossover into elite club management, producing a more thrilling brand of football would enhance his CV.

Much is made of the youthfulness of this current England squad – and it IS full of potential.

Jude Bellingham, only 18, is going to be a superstar, likewise 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, while Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, both 21, are already there

But the side Southgate started on Sunday had an average age of around 27. He does not fully trust his youngsters.

And that is understandable. After all, the average age of the victorious Italian team was 29.

Experience should not be a dirty word and there were no signs during Euro 2020 that this excellent England campaign would be the swan song for any of the 26 involved.

There were not many, if any, of the squad whose reputations were not enhanced.

But the bottom line is that Southgate sets up his teams, primarily, not to concede.

Again, nothing wrong with that. It was a policy that took England to within the odd botched penalty of a major trophy, after all.

It was a policy that same them concede only a scruffy goal from a corner and a howitzer of a free-kick.

Do not expect Southgate to go all gung-ho next time you set eyes on England.

Do not expect Grealish, Sancho, Saka and Foden to be trotting out together any time soon.

But what was missing from England’s performance against Italy was, quite simply, flair.

And this generation of players, younger and older, has plenty of it.

Unlock it and England will not only remain a powerhouse, they will end that tortuous wait for ultimate success.




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