England endured a dismal four game spell as their UEFA Nations League campaign descended into farce and the pressure ramped up on Gareth Southgate with the World Cup around the corner
Gareth Southgate is ready to go back to basics to turn England’s fortunes around.
That means England fans better brace themselves for Southgate to return to a more conservative style of football ahead of the World Cup. But Southgate wants England to be winners rather than entertainers and the disastrous Nations League campaign has shown experiments have a habit of backfiring in spectacular fashion.
In the space of 11 days, the positivity and optimism surrounding England has been replaced with negativity and doubts. No goals from open play in six hours, the team selection and performances have thrown up more questions than answers.
But the clamour for more attacking performances, to use flair over industry has been overwhelming and, while Southgate insists that did not sway him, it has left him even more staunch in his view that being good defensively is always his top priority.
Southgate said: “I think some of the desire to see open play… We saw against Hungary that you’ve got to have the balance of a team right. And you’ve got to get those decisions right.
“And with a club, maybe if you’re at the top, and you’ve got a long time working with the players, you can play a more expensive game, but I think even the top teams, they’re bloody good defensively, they’re good on transition, the balance of everything is right.
“So I think the idea that we can just play lots of attacking players and rely on talent to win matches… it’s not it’s not the way it is. And, you know, that was a reminder to myself in the second half against Hungary that it’s a gamble. You go for a gamble to try to win the game because you think that’s important. But what happened can happen…”
The message was pretty clear. Whether that means a return to a back three and a more defensive-minded formation remains to be seen. But there are key issues to resolve within a squad now shell-shocked by the first really bad run under Southgate.
The dressing room was quiet and shell-shocked after the game. Southgate told the players that the results were down to him. Many went straight off on holiday, whisked away in FA cars having been told by the manager not to stew on it because it was his responsibility.
Players like Southgate because he shoulders the blame. But some players were disappointed this time as there are two or three obvious examples where they believed they were given the impression they were going to play… and then didn’t. That can quickly spread in a dressing room.
Maybe it has also shown the likes of James Justin, Conor Gallagher and Jarrod Bowen are not good enough. There is a huge concern over the centre halves with Harry Maguire out of form. Conor Coady must be sweating on his place with new, younger faces emerging.
But they have surely missed Jordan Henderson’s leadership and experience this time. The players remain very supportive of Southgate but the match-going fans have turned on the manager for the first time.
Sadly, the knock-on effect is that it affects the dressing room and Southgate admits it could herald a return to the bad old days when the shirt weighed heavily on their shoulders and stopped them playing with freedom. The players were nervous and timid against Hungary.
“I think you have seen the anxiety start to creep back in a bit,” said Southgate. “But also this is the reality of professional football.
“But this group of players have given the best outcomes for 50 years. it’s important that they get they stick with a group of young players because they need it, they need the support. They need that all the time.”
Southgate now goes on holiday himself, unable to escape the fall out of the first real crisis of his reign. But also acutely aware that a manager’s whole career can change in a heartbeat. He added: “It will be a different experience as England manager that I haven’t had yet. But one that I was totally prepared for, and one that I knew could happen at some point. And it’s probably unrealistic for it not to happen at some point.
“So that’s the downside of international, you are judged on sometimes a short period of time, sometimes it can be 10 minutes, that changes your life.”
The 4 games that changed the nation’s mood
Hungary, June 4, lost 0-1 – This was a huge shock and set the mood for the whole Nations League campaign. Sloppy display.
Germany, June 7, drew 1-1 – England snatched a draw with Harry Kane’s late penalty and could have actually won a game in which they were outplayed for 70 minute.
Italy, June 11, drew 0-0 – Don’t be fooled. This Italy team is in transition and was miles away from the one which beat England on penalties last summer. Bad result.
Hungary, June 14, lost 0-4 – England’s heaviest home defeat since 1928. Awful display, a real low for Southgate’s reign as the crowd turned on the manager for the first time.