On Friday night I was lucky enough to be one of the 87,000 inside Wembley to digest England’s latest World Cup Qualifier against their ‘old enemy.’ The Three Lions eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, but the match was far more complicated than that scoreline might suggest. There were various talking points which came to light such as whether Gareth Southgate is the right man to take England forward and how England are responding to their recent problems under Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce.
Ahead of the match there were rumours that Gareth Southgate would be appointed as the permanent England manager if they beat Scotland. Personally I don’t think it is a good idea for a manager to be given a job on the basis of one result, so hopefully there is no truth to those rumours. However, I do not think Southgate would be a bad manager for England and hope he does get the job for now. With the current shortage of outstanding candidates I would not see the point in giving the job to somebody different. I think the effect of yet another change of managers would be detrimental on the team so Southgate should be kept on for the moment, however I am not sure he is the man to do the job in the long term. In my view the best course of action would be to keep Southgate as an interim manager until the next World Cup and then reevaluate the situation.
There are simply no outstanding options available at the moment who would realistically take the job so the best option would be to sit tight until one emerges. There is no point in appointing a new manager simply for the sake of it because it is decided that Southgate is not the man to take the country forward in the long term so it would be better to keep the current manager for now so that the team can get some stability, but I do not think Southgate should be appointed permanently. If at the end of the season somebody like Arséne Wenger becomes available then I think he should be offered the job because he would be a good appointment so England should not give any long term contract to Southgate. Ideally England will keep Southgate on a rolling contract up until the next World Cup, when we can again decide what best to do about the situation. I do not want to be committed to keeping Southgate until a certain point because if a good manager becomes available England would then be unable to offer them the job, but change for the sake of change will not help the team so I would keep Southgate in the short term.
I have found it surprising that so little emphasis has been put on analysing the tactics that Southgate has been using. This will probably be seen as an insult, but I saw some very clear parallels between the tactics under Southgate and the tactics under Roy Hodgson. Both managers have seen their England teams play with variations of 4-5-1 formations, with Hodgson favouring the use of a defensive midfielder and two more dynamic central midfielders and Southgate opting for two siting central midfielders and one in the number ten role. Under both managers England’s wingers have taken up narrow positions so that they almost act as two extra number tens, allowing the full-backs to push up and offer a threat out wide. This system is clearly tailored to accommodate Southgate’s philosophy of playing out from the back.
Short passing is clearly something Southgate is trying to impose on his team, as was seen with Joe Hart passing the ball short whenever possible and the packing of central midfield. However I’m not sure that England’s players are best suited to that style of football. Despite the fact that John Stones i widely regarded as one of the best ball-playing central defenders in world football, him and Gary Cahill played themselves into trouble several times against Scotland and a better side would have punished them. The midfield also found it difficult at times to bypass the defence with the killer pass, which could see the continuation of England’s problems against less adventurous sides that they have encountered such as Iceland and Slovenia recently. Hopefully England can improve their passing to become more effective in their style of play.
Even though there were a couple of negative points to England v Scotland, the most important thing was the win. As with any competitive match, the win is all that really matters and it was even better due to the three goal margin of victory. I’m not sure whether Southgate will be appointed permanently but I would much rather keep him as interim rather than changing manager. England’s passing football will be put to the test when they play Spain on Tuesday so it will be interesting to see whether they will be able to successfully employ Southgate’s system or whether they will encounter the same problems as they did under Hodgson.