Gareth Southgate's England FC: Why The Three Lions Boss Treats England Like A Club

Every fan has strong opinions on Southgate's squad selection, but he won't change his approach any time soon
08:00, 21 Mar 2022

The international break is here, and that can only mean one thing. People are moaning about Gareth Southgate’s England squad selection for their games with Switzerland and Ivory Coast. The manager who has guided the Three Lions to a World Cup semi final and a European Championship final should at this point be beyond criticism. What he’s doing is working better than any England coach’s work since 1966. Unfortunately, that is never enough to stop the torrent of moaning rebuttals his every squad garners on social media. 

Various players were singled out by enquiring Twitterati minds as to how they’d made the squad. Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw’s subpar Manchester United form should have precluded their inclusion for many. Conor Coady was seen as a poor choice considering the club form of Fikayo Tomori and Eric Dier, a point the latter’s club manager Antonio Conte agreed with. Jack Grealish’s comparatively quiet first season at City was used to question his selection. 

Meanwhile the list of potential England must-haves was long and varied according to those on social platforms. Max Kilman, Jadon Sancho, Djed Spence, Dan Burn, Jacob Ramsey, Kyle Walker, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tyrick Mitchell and Kyle Walker-Peters were just some of the players cited as ones England cannot do without. Putting aside the fact some of these players were clearly suggested with no shortage of club bias involved, the fact they were raised at all suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the way Southgate operates.

Throughout Gareth Southgate’s successful tenure as England boss, there has been a theme of evolution not revolution to his selections. The former Middlesbrough manager makes tweaks rather than sweeping changes. Each time, the 51-year-old will refurbish rather than rebuild his set-up. This approach makes complete sense, considering England’s near-misses at the last two major tournaments. Why rip the whole chassis out of the car when it’s only finishing second in the race?

Southgate’s treatment of England is that of a club manager rather than the approach we’re used to from international incumbents. Form is certainly a consideration in his work, as is clear with Marc Guehi’s breakthrough season at Crystal Palace earning him a call-up. But it is not the ultimate decision-maker.

harry maguire is one of many selections fans have criticised
harry maguire is one of many selections fans have criticised

Many fans certainly feel it is, and have expressed that the England squad should be exclusively made up of the domestic players performing the best at any given moment. There is certainly merit to this approach, and it is largely how international management is done. But on current form Harry Maguire would not get near the squad, yet he has been the outstanding England centre-back of the last five years. Jack Grealish would also be a likely casualty, given his modest start at Manchester City. However, as recently as the Euros everyone was talking about him as a creative talent England should build around. 

Southgate’s primary concern is what an individual can do for his team. The England team under Southgate is not a periodic awards ceremony for fine club form as much as it is a core group of players and a series of transfer windows to improve his squad. “Signings” will be selected if he feels they can add to a side that has taken England the furthest they have been in major tournaments in decades. Players aren’t immune to “transfer” either. Marcus Rashford’s troubles at United have seen him “sold” this time, but with the flexibility afforded by international football allowing his reintroduction at a later date. This kind of ordered fluidity has served England well, and provided a tactical structure and playing style absent in previous eras. Southgate knows how he wants his Three Lions to play, and has stocked his ranks with players he knows can do it.

Nothing is likely to change on either side of the divide. Southgate will continue to make only slight running repairs to his overall vision, and fans will continue to berate him for doing so. Spurred by intense club loyalties, every fan in the land has a player they believe should be in the squad that isn’t. Extrapolate it for the number of clubs and even if you stop at the Premier League that’s at least twenty players Southgate is supposedly overlooking. The more conducive way to view it is if even half of these players really are England quality, Southgate has a depth of quality options to enhance his squad going forward. Just don’t expect him to pick them all at once.

england are 7/1 to win the 2022 World Cup with betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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