Euro 2020: pragmatist Gareth Southgate faces moment of truth as England clashes with age-old enemies Germany
Long-term planning can be criticized in an industry based on the short term. The Football Association have announced plans to tie up Gareth Southgate until the end of the 2024 World Cup before their Euro 2020 fate is decided. He signed up to a manager for four tournaments when he had completed one, but successfully, and was halfway through the second.
England were ready to mortgage their future and make him their longest-serving manager since Bobby Robson. If this reflected the reality that international management did not attract many elite coaches and that there had long been a dearth of high-class English options, it also showed that leadership off the pitch at Southgate was exceptional. He has been an excellent spokesperson, role model and thinker. The remaining questions are whether he is an elite manager.
Tuesday might offer answers. Southgate shattered a domestic glass ceiling when he took England to a first World Cup semi-final for 28 years in 2018. He could shatter others.
England have never won a knockout match at the European Championships in 90 minutes; their only triumph, thanks to a side including Southgate against Spain in 1996, was on penalties.
While others like Portugal and the Netherlands fell apart, as the draw opened, with Sweden or Ukraine in the quarterfinals, Denmark or the Czech Republic in the semi -final, there is the chance of another historic achievement. . Or, in the tradition of the England-Germany games, an opportunity to lament what might have been as age-old enemies progressed further.
Southgate finds itself more dependent on results to justify itself. The pragmatists are. England are the only side not to have conceded Euro 2020 but no one has qualified for the round of 16 with so few goals.
Southgate has made the conscious decision to take a pragmatic approach. England have an enviable collection of attacking full-backs, but they rarely attacked. Kalvin Phillips played a progressive role against Croatia, but since then he and Declan Rice have felt like two defensive midfielders. The excitement was rationed, especially in the second half.
Let’s go back to 2019 and England were horsemen. Their total of 38 international goals was the highest in a calendar year in their history. But amnesia set in during the nine-month hiatus from international football.
Too many observers have forgotten their gratuitous antics. Southgate went on the defensive in 2020, selecting a full-back five, seeking the strength that tournament winners often exhibit. Criticism followed.
Leave Euro 2020 without excelling as an offensive force and many more will follow. The generation of young English talent gave Southgate options it didn’t have in 2018. Some of its skeptics scored a point; others have been inconsistent and inconsistent, blaming him for not choosing who is on the bench.
Jadon Sancho is a famous current cause. Jack Grealish was and may be. Still, many, including Jose Mourinho, would not have picked Raheem Sterling at the start of the tournament and he scored both goals for England. Few expected Bukayo Saka to start against the Czech Republic, but he was the man of the match.
Now decisions are needed: Phil Foden or Saka, whether to recall Mason Mount, potentially at the expense of Grealish, when he comes out of his isolation, if he comes back to five in the back. The tournaments will be judged on them; likewise, if Southgate can change the games with his substitutes in a way that he didn’t in 2018. Perhaps the climate has changed since then. Maybe with Wembley at its peak for 15 months, it will echo the 2018 anthem “Southgate, You’re the One”. The FA thinks so. A decisive victory now would help prove their case.