There are a lot of people in England who can’t wait for Gareth Southgate to fail.
He didn’t pick Jack Grealish? #SouthgateOut
He ignored Jadon Sancho? #SouthgateOut
Raheem Sterling starts? #SouthgateOut
He gave an eloquent address about how this country is a wonderfully multicultural land which should embrace people of all backgrounds and promote causes supporting minorities? #SouthgateOut
Even before kick-off at Wembley on Tuesday before England’s 2-0 Euro 2020 round of 16 win over Germany, there were ‘fans’ – probably the same ones who booed the German national anthem – who were booing those England players taking a knee as a show of solidarity with the country’s Black communities. Southgate has appealed on countless occasions for supporters to support or at least accept the custom, but some are pre-disposed to hate the practice and dislike the manager by association.
As for his selections, thanks to social media you don’t have to have the sound up on your TV to know there is a big section of England fans that want Jack Grealish to start games come what may. They see him perform week after week with Aston Villa and decide that he must always play for the national team.
Forget that England have greater resources than Villa. Forget the fact international football requires players to be more structured more often than not. Just get Southgate out, because he’s not putting all five great attacking midfielders in the team at once.
Well, do you know what? Southgate is doing a fantastic job, thank you very much.
He has just matched the great Sir Bobby Robson’s achievement of taking England to a semi-final and a quarter-final at a major tournament, and is now just 90 minutes away from becoming the first England boss ever to lead the nation to two semi-finals. The first ever!
It matters not that they haven’t scored 15 goals to this point. They are in the quarter-final. Don’t like that Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice both get picked in midfield rather than an extra attacker being used? So what, they are in the quarter-final. Southgate is doing everything necessary to get the best out of this England squad, and he's made Sterling a key part of his successes despite the misgivings others have had over the Manchester City star's form of late.
On Tuesday he matched Germany’s 3-4-3, nullified their running threat for the most part and got the game into a position where an impact sub could make a difference. Then he unleashed Grealish, and Luke Shaw made hay down the left, having a hand in both goals after a first-half performance which had had some fans online – you guessed it, bellowing at Southgate to make attacking changes.
Just as in their group wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic, England were a measured threat. They picked at their opponents when they found the openings to do so. They didn’t go gung-ho, but neither did they let Germany off the hook. This was international tournament football at its most intelligent.
People sometimes ask why England can’t play more like Spain. Well, when Vicente del Bosque led the Spaniards to their World Cup triumph in 2010, what were their scores? 0-1, 2-0, 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. Seven games, eight goals. Their defence, more than their attack, won them the tournament.
And if England 1-0 or 2-0 their way to three more wins (they're 2/1 favourites with Betfred to do exactly that), the country will be in raptures. It will matter not that they haven’t played Jack Grealish for 630 minutes out of 630. Jadon Sancho’s lack of activity with be a mere footnote. Gareth Southgate will have done his job.
The criticism of England’s most successful manager since Sir Alf Ramsey got his hand on Jules Rimet is ridiculously misplaced. And if you’re one of those who is hoping Southgate fails, don’t bother to attend the endless parties if he succeeds.