OPINION: Southgate is the wrong man for the England job – and the right man as well

According to reports, Gareth Southgate has been offered the job as England manager on a permanent basis.

There are, as ever when it comes to managerial appointments in football and especially the biggest job in the country, two camps of opinions as to whether he is the right choice.

It is however possible to sit back and place a foot in both camps. Southgate is the right choice to get the job, while also being absolutely the wrong choice.

Southgate set for England nod. Image: Carl Recine/ Reuters

Admittedly that seems an entirely paradoxical argument, but the point behind it will become clear.

After four games in charge on a temporary basis, the FA have seemingly decided the current under-21s boss has passed his audition and is ready to step into the shoes of Sam Allardyce after his infamously short spell in charge.

Let’s begin by considering the merits of that audition process. It started with a game at home to Malta – those footballing giants – at Wembley. A 2-0 win for Southgate’s England. Thoroughly uninspiring. He followed that up with a dreadful showing away in Slovenia, where a 0-0 draw was all that ever looked possible from such an appalling game.

Into November and a 3-0 win over Scotland at Wembley was positive, though entirely expected, and Scotland even dominated much of the contest. Four days later came a friendly with Spain, the recent powerhouses of world football who have hit the buffers and reached England-levels of mediocrity. England surged into a two goal lead, only to throw it away by conceding two goals after the 89th minute.

Now somehow, this average-at-best run of results has been judged a success by many pundits, analysts, armchair observers. It has been enough to seal the deal for Southgate. But can two solid if unspectacular wins at home to Malta and Scotland, and two draws with Slovenia and Spain really constitute success?

And should the four-game run have mattered at all? Let’s face it, every England manager in recent times (bar Steve McClaren) has swept all aside during qualification and often beaten big nations in glamour friendlies. Roy Hodgson’s record was outstanding, yet every time we come to a major tournament it all goes wrong.

So should such a pointless run of matches matter at all in judging Southgate’s credentials? No it shouldn’t.

Southgate wasn’t even considered when Allardyce was appointed, and he himself declared he wasn’t ready for the job on a permanent basis, shortly before taking interim charge.

But here he is, about to be given the biggest managerial job in British football, despite holding a particularly unimpressive managerial record.

He took his first steps in management in 2006, taking over at Middlesbrough despite not having his coaching badges. A 12th placed Premier League finish in his debut season was a solid return, but it never took off after that.

The following season Boro flirted with the relegation zone, before pulling clear to finish 13th. Having been as high as 8th in the the 2008-09 campaign, a 14-game winless streak saw Boro plummet down the table and fans called for Southgate’s head. He finished 19th and Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship.

Despite fans frustrations, Southgate was kept on as boss, but was sacked in October 2009 with the club 4th in the Championship.

He was made Under-21s manager in 2013 and his record in qualifying has been superb. Yet, like his senior England managers, Southgate failed to deliver when it came to the tournament.

England entered the European Under-21 Championships in 2015 as one of the favourites to win. Southgate possessed a squad brimming with Premier League talent, including in-form Harry Kane, Jack Butland, John Stones, Danny Ings, Jesse Lingard and Nathan Redmond.

They crashed out at the group stage, beating only Sweden and losing to Portugal and Italy. It was a huge underachievement and many expected Southgate to be sacked.

And yet now, just over a year later, we are expected to believe that Southgate is the outstanding candidate to be England national team manager?

It’s a managerial CV that would struggle to earn him a League One job.

But, here comes the paradox. Despite all this, despite a flawed audition process, despite him not even being considered a couple of months ago, despite a decidedly average managerial record, Southgate is the right choice to be given the job.

Image: Michael Regan/ The FA via Getty Images

Why is that? Well, simply there are no other options.

If, and it’s a big if, you decide as the FA have done, that the England manager has to be English, there aren’t any other outstanding candidates for the role.

Alan Pardew is on a rollercoaster of form and performances in charge of Crystal Palace, and therefore isn’t a prime contender for the post. Steve Bruce, who was considered before Allardyce was appointed, has just taken over at Aston Villa. Eddie Howe, perhaps the brightest young manager in the country, is probably too young and too inexperienced for the job right now. Sean Dyche at Burnley is another option, but Southgate is in a better position having worked as Under-21 boss.

He’s an FA man, he fits the blazer, he will toe the party line. Those sort of things shouldn’t matter but they do. It’s why Harry Redknapp has always been overlooked – his face didn’t fit, he’s too much of a loose cannon.

So much of football is about timing. The pieces have all fallen perfectly for Southgate to take this job. The timing has all gone his way. Some will call it luck, others fate, but whichever way you slice it, Gareth is the right choice because he’s virtually the only choice.

That in of itself is a sad commentary for the state of English coaching.

Is Southgate going to revolutionise the national team? No. Is he going to lead England into a bright new dawn and inspire this generation to glory? Doubtful.

Nothing we’ve seen from Southgate as a manager suggests he is the right man to manage England. But he’s in the right place at the right time, and that’s the key.


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