Gareth Southgate has finally been given the job of England manager by the FA. It’s a big victory for the 46-year-old, but as the old saying goes – the hard work starts now.
So what has Southgate got to sort in the coming months?
Whether you see it as a storm in a tea cup – or perhaps more aptly a wine glass – one of the first things the new England boss has to sort out is the issue of players’ behaviour.
The end of his interim reign was followed by controversy over skipper Wayne Rooney and Phil Jagielka drinking, along with some Football Association staff, at a wedding party between matches. It was during allocated free time but FA chief executive Martin Glenn promised a “proper investigation”. There were also reports Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson went to a strip club in Bournemouth.
The governing body is reviewing players’ free time and Southgate needs to bring the matter to a close.
The furore surrounding Rooney’s late-night antics led him to “unreservedly” apologise to FA technical director Dan Ashworth, young fans and Southgate. How the Three Lions boss reacted to the incident is unclear, with one report going as far as to say Southgate will strip Rooney of the captaincy.
The 31-year-old is alleged to have defied the former defender by returning to the wedding party, raising questions about the country’s all-time top scorer’s position despite his insistence he is “not finished yet”. Southgate was widely praised for the way he handled dropping Rooney in Slovenia and his reaction now can set the tone.
“Certainly, nobody knows the nation’s young talent better than Gareth” said FA chief executive Glenn of the interim manager ahead of the interview process. Southgate’s appointment follows three years as head coach of the England Under-21s, who he led to the 2015 and 2017 European finals along with the country’s first Toulon tournament success for 22 years.
The former Middlesbrough boss also worked as the FA’s head of elite development for a period so few know the country’s strength in depth better. Jesse Lingard, so impressive for the Under-21s at the 2015 Euros, won his first caps under Southgate, but there are plenty more young players knocking on the door.
Southgate played a key role in creating the “England DNA” manifesto aimed at making a winning national team. Formed of five core elements, it is about helping set out an identity that will breed success.
Southgate drove the “playing philosophy” element to the DNA, which points to intelligent dominance in possession and swift pressing when without it. That was evident in the final match of the four-match interim stint, with England impressing, if ultimately caught cold at the death, against Spain. Continual evolution is required if Southgate is to have a successful team at a major tournament…
…and getting to the World Cup is Southgate’s overriding immediate focus.
England enter 2017 top of Group F afer a comprehensive 3-0 win against oldest foes Scotland followed a hard-fought goalless draw in Slovenia and a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Malta. A straightforward-looking home match with Lithuania should allow the Three Lions to increase their stranglehold on qualification in March ahead of a mouth-watering post-season trip to Scotland.
Few expect England to fail in their bid to reach the World Cup and the other items in Southgate’s in-tray will go a long way to help ensure the challenge is successful.