Yesterday summed up Gareth Southgate’s reign as England manager.
Zero substitutions, very little in-game management, and end up not getting the result we wanted.
Poland are a good team, but not a great team. There is a reason why they are currently 4th in the group behind Albania and Hungary and won just 3 of their last 12 games (against San Marino, Albania and Andorra).
Beyond Robert Lewandowski and Wojciech Szczęsny, the team is made up from journeymen, mainly playing in minor leagues such as Greece or Russia; or in lower leagues across England, Germany and Italy.
It feels odd criticising a man that has taken England so far.
2018 was our first World Cup semi-final in 28 years and 2021 saw us make our first international final since 1966 – 55 years ago.
Throw in a 3rd place I the Nations League and Southgate’s reign has seen huge improvements on what went before.
But questions need to be asked.
Southgate cost England a place in the 2018 World Cup final with poor in game management.
And it was the same in the 2020 (2021) European Championship final.
Whilst the game went down to penalties, it was certainly the case of “the best coach won” as Roberto Mancini made changes that Southgate did not.
Despite Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane being passengers in the 30 minutes extra time, Southgate left them on – only bring in Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford on in the 120th minute to take a penalty.
Any manager worth his salt would have hooked Sterling and Kane off earlier. The addition of pace up front would have given England a better chance of winning.
And again against Poland last night. 1-0 up he failed to make any substitutions to help see out the game.
Poland were piling on the pressure in the last 10 minutes, finding space in behind England’s back line.
A top manager would have made some changes. Bought on one of the 3 right backs on the bench to play in front of Kyle Walker giving him more cover. Or bought on Henderson, Lingard or Bellingham for Mount to provide more energy in the middle of the park. Or put Patrick Bamford on upfront so that we can press higher.
All 3 should have been done.
Whilst Harry Kane scored the goal to put us 1-0 up, he is not the man you want when trying to close out a win. He has an inability to press high and too often Polish defenders just ran past him with the ball like he was not there.
He also lacks the pace to play on the break.
Bamford, Henderson and James would have given the side a more defensive look, a bit more pace and energy.
Whilst what Southgate has done so far as England manager should be praised, there is a risk we could waste a generation of talent on a manager who is out of his depth. Poor in-game decisions costing England at key times.
The issue the FA would face is if not Southgate, then who?
I am a big believer that the England manager should always be English.
There are 4 Englishman managing in the Premier League at the moment – Steve Bruce, Sean Dyche, Dean Smith and Graham Potter.
The first two would be a huge step backwards for England.
Smith and Potter would both be interesting candidates, but I am not sure either has the CV or are much better than Southgate at this points in their career. And would either leave their Premier League jobs?
Managers out of a job include Frank Lampard, Eddie Howe and Chris Wilder.
Howe would be a lot of peoples favourite, but there is a reason he has been out of a job since leaving Bournemouth 15 months ago.
Wilder is an inspirational leader, but probably does not have the tactical grasp to make an impact at a high level and Lampard’s CV is thin. He probably needs another domestic job or to join Southgate’s set up to be groomed as his successor.
Lee Carsley is the current England U21 manager, and Chris Powell is involved in the first team. Both have some senior managerial experience but not much.
So is Southgate still the one?
Yes. At least for now.
His saving grace is the lack of other candidates.
England are top of their group, and with a World cup semi-final and European championship final under his belt, it would take an exceptional candidate to take the job from him right now. And there is just not an exceptional candidate about.
In 18 months time, if his poor in-game management costs England again then it might be time to look at Smith, Potter or Howe. But for now, Southgate is going nowhere.