Thursday, October 28

Southgate has created an England that players love, but now comes the litmus test | Gareth southgate

There is something magical about Lord’s cricket ground and it is particularly striking when it is empty, when a sense of history, beauty and greatness arises from stillness.

Gareth Southgate wanted his English footballers to experience it, to drink from the aura, so he took them for a walk through the immaculate grounds. The twist was that he did it on Tuesday morning, before the final Euro 2020 group tie against the Czech Republic that night.

It was the perfect example of Southgate’s desire to stimulate his players in ever-different ways, to keep their minds open and relaxed, to cut the tension of one tournament and there would be another the following night.

Work done in the 1-0 victory, qualification to the knockout stages assured as group leaders, this time it was a barbecue at the team’s training base in St George Park with the guest appearance of Ed Sheeran, who played some of their songs. He even did a short rendition of Three Lions.

Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, the players who have had to isolate themselves after their contact with Billy Gilmour from Scotland, tested positive for Covid on Monday and bypassed the scene in the reassigned rooms. Southgate wanted them to feel included.

If Southgate has done anything right in his nearly five years as manager with the England senior team, it is to create an environment in which the players feel calm and comfortable, free of cliques and united, ready to act.

It may sound simple, but it is nothing of the sort when a group of young people must be largely locked in for a period of weeks. Remember the 2010 World Cup disaster with Fabio Capello? A key reason everything went wrong was his prison-style regime.

Southgate has used all of his knowledge from his previous role as England Under-21 coach and indeed as an international with 57 caps to create a setup that players want to be a part of rather than find excuses to avoid.

Marcus Rashford may need shoulder surgery, but he was determined to play at Euro 2020.
Marcus Rashford may need shoulder surgery, but he was determined to play at Euro 2020. Photograph: Eddie Keogh / The FA / Getty Images

Visitors to St George’s Park over the past few weeks have been able to feel the positivity and confidence of the team and it was significant when Marcus Rashford said Thursday that he had played in pain for much of the season and might need shoulder surgery afterward. euros – the emphasis is on the moment. The Manchester United striker could have missed this final, the excuse was there for him. He did not want to accept it and his club was equally happy to support him and Southgate.

Southgate has managed to recreate the atmosphere of a club by keeping things interesting, sometimes thinking outside the box; trying to develop the players as people and treating them as adults. The transfer of conversations during the competition, for example, is not prohibited. Southgate is confident that the priority will remain England.

Half the battle with international management is building the platform for expression and, if it worked for Southgate in the race to the 2018 World Cup semifinals, he now faces a litmus test.

Germany is part of Southgate’s history because it will always be associated with failing the crucial penalty shootout against them in the Euro 96 semi-final defeat at Wembley. Now they return for a round of 16 meeting on Tuesday that needs little publicity, but will get it anyway.

Southgate felt like he let everyone down with his failure from the spot and deep down, he must have thought that the rematch all these years later could bring a note of personal redemption. It’s a big screen quality script. That being said, Southgate is not a person to allow his mind to recede. His point of view is that life is to live and continues.

Gareth Southgate reacts after missing his penalty to give Germany victory in the Euro 96 semi-final.
Gareth Southgate reacts after missing his penalty to give Germany victory in the Euro 96 semi-final. Photograph: Stu Forster / Getty Images

From the outside, it’s easy to see Germany’s game as a potentially defining moment for Southgate’s legacy, one of those points he and the national team have built toward since joining the Football Association in 2011 as head of elite development. . Back then there was introspection after the World Cup campaign with Capello, which ended in a 4-1 loss to Germany in the round of 16, and Southgate’s work over an 18-month period was intense in tackling the issue. disconnection between the club and the country.

What it boils down to is Southgate is transposing all the meticulous planning and shaping the culture for a brighter future into something tangible for the present; so that their methods produce a vital victory.

The criticism of Southgate in this tournament has been that his team has played with a lack of adventure and, more broadly, has shown himself as a technician who lines up with six defenders and four with an offensive vocation; sometimes even seven and three. He can turn the dial to attack by asking full-backs to push higher or one of the deeper midfielders to move forward and there is flexibility in his approach but, against better opposition, he tends to be structured rather than exciting, with substitutions. mainly comparable.

The Southgate team has been said to lack identity but this is not true. The identity is clear; it’s just that some fans don’t like it, mainly because they can see the abundance of creative talent on the team. They want five attacking-minded players on the team and it’s the main tension of the Southgate era, which has coalesced in these finals around whether or not Jack Grealish is included.

Jack Grealish on the ball against the Czech Republic.  His inclusion or not has been a source of tension among England fans.
Jack Grealish on the ball against the Czech Republic. His inclusion or not has been a source of tension among England fans. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

The question is, does it have to be a choice, if the fans prefer to entertain themselves or win and it is obvious, and understandable, where Southgate stands. Regarding Germany’s game, could stamina, order, and well-practiced moves be the answer? It has worked for Germany in the past. On the other hand, striving towards a result and falling short invites a strong reaction, especially when the potential for attack is taken into account.

It’s an aspect of danger in Southgate’s professional life, but he won’t run from it, having long vowed to tackle challenges on his terms, staying true to himself – in this case, perhaps, his instincts as a straightforward defender. In the book she released last November, titled Anything is Possible: Be Brave, Be Kind & Follow Your Dreams, she details her journey from a “skinny, introverted teenager” to someone who’s not afraid to go for things in life, including the so-called “Impossible Job” of the England coach.

Southgate has made it more possible by being honest and empathetic, invariably perfect with his management of men or speaking out on broader issues of the day. Throughout his career, he has earned respect in tough situations, starting in an old-school and extremely tough Crystal Palace locker room.

Now he just needs to beat Germany.

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