Southgate’s unparalleled success
When Gareth Southgate took over as England manager in September 2016, the team was at its lowest ebb.
At that summer’s European Championships, the Three Lions had been embarrassingly eliminated by tournament debutants Iceland in the round of 16.
The FA turned to Sam Allardyce, but he left after just one game and 67 days in charge, following allegations of malpractice, uncovered by the Daily Telegraph.
The English public had fallen out of love with their national team, and changing that face has been Southgate’s biggest success.
At his first major tournament in 2018, England won a knockout game for the first time in 12 years, and were victorious in a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time ever.
In Russia, they reached the semi-finals before, at Euro 2020, appearing in a first final for 55 years.
With six of England’s seven matches at that tournament played at Wembley, the connection between the supporters and the players was well and truly back, and at its strongest level in modern times.
They beat Germany at a major tournament for the first time since 1966, but couldn’t get their hands on that illusive major trophy.
In Qatar, Southgate endured his earliest tournament exit, with his side crashing out in the quarter-finals against World Champions France.
But the numbers speak for themselves: since 1966, England have won just 12 knockout matches, with Southgate overseeing six of these.
But, with Euro 2024 kicking off in just 550 days time in Munich, is Southgate still the man most likely to end, what will be, 58 years of hurt?
The pattern behind the high-profile defeats
England’s first three knockout defeats under Southgate all followed the exact same pattern.
Score early, sit back, relinquish position and control and ultimately lose in rather meek fashion.
This first happened against Croatia in 2018, score after five minutes, beaten 2-1 after extra time.
Same again against Netherlands in the 2019 Nations League semi-finals, score after 32 minutes lost 3-1 in extra time.
The theme reared it’s ugly head again once more in the final of Euro 2020, with Luke Shaw scoring after just 116 seconds, before Italy fought back and won on penalties.
The optimism’s view would be that World Cup 2022 was different, with young talents like Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham coming to the fore.
While their game-plan was far from flawless, England went toe-to-toe with the world champions, and were narrowly beaten in a game of fine margins.
The team appears to be evolving under Southgate, something many believed wasn’t possible, so, despite, in pure results terms, being further away from glory, England appear to be trending in the right direction.
Is it time for change?
Back on 14 June, England were demolished 4-0 by Hungary at Molineux in the UEFA Nations League, suffering their biggest home defeat for 94 years.
The Three Lions were relegated to League B, failing to win any of their six matches, not even managing to score in four of them.
The atmosphere that day in Wolverhampton was mutinous, completely off the scale, something few managers will expirence from their own supporters; Steve Bruce at Newcastle springs to mind.
For those of us there that day, the idea that Southgate would survive the World Cup seemed implausible, but six months in an awfully long time in international football.
Southgate himself says he needs time to think about his future but, if he does want to stay on, he should absolutely be given the opportunity.
Even his staunches critics would have to acknowledge that there is no obvious candidate to replace him.
The best English managers, Eddie Howe and Graham Potter, are in elite-level jobs they’re not going to give up.
Also, due to the delay of this World Cup, the Euros is right around the corner and, in March, England kick off their qualification campaign with two crucial, challening fixtures: Italy (A) & Ukraine (H).
Most importantly, publicly at least, all the players want him to stay, and the fact players want to play for England and enjoying spending time with one-another should not be underestimated.
This wasn’t always the case.
Now is not the time for change, England are going in the right direction, and ‘it’s coming home’ fever will grip the nation once again.
Roll on June 2024!