Is Southgate still the right man to lead England forward?

Is Southgate still the right man to lead England forward?
Is Southgate still the right man to lead England forward?
Is Southgate still the right man to lead England forward?
The countdown to the World Cup is ticking ever closer and England appear to have hit a wall at one of the most uncomfortable of times.

The final international break before the show in Qatar has seen the Three Lions suffer relegation to League B of the Nations League after a sombre display in the 1-0 defeat to Italy. 

England’s loss in Milan saw the team - and notably manager Gareth Southgate (52) - jeered off the hallowed San Siro turf in what has been an ever-turning atmosphere. 

The reaction was a clear reflection of how things have soured of late, which has given Southgate the tough task of trying to restore some form of calm and control. 

While the mood is a far cry from that following England reaching a World Cup semi-final and Euro final, the biggest problem for Southgate is it looks like his six-year stint has run its course. 

And with the World Cup opener against Iran around eight weeks away, questions are now arising as to whether the former defender is still the right man to lead England towards success again. 

Squad selection issues must be resolved

One of the biggest talking points during Southgate’s time as England boss has been his roster selections - who he picks to be a part of his squad across all types of fixtures. 

Every national team has a select group of its best players that are pretty much a guarantee to make the list and that is no different with England. 

Southgate has built up a portfolio of names he trusts throughout his tenure which has allowed him a sense of continuity with his line-ups, but it has also led to some issues. 

Harry MaguireLuke Shaw and Mason Mount - all very much a part of Southgate’s ‘trusted’ party - have all failed to hit their strides so far this term and have not warranted a call-up to the latest England fold. 

Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has also struggled for his club, received his standard call-up before being left on the bench against Italy and then being left out entirely for the fixture against Germany. 

This is just the latest of a string of odd choices made by Southgate during his spell, which have caused some frustration from observers on the outside.

This sort of comfort in turn blocks precious roster spots which can be taken up by more in-form players, who have provided their own individual cases for selection. 

James Maddison has offered the biggest case for a call-up having shone for a struggling Leicester side but was again overlooked, with his last and only England cap coming almost three years ago. 

Southgate has sought to reward some of this season’s strong performers, though, with the likes of Ivan Toney and Eric Dier making the grade for their displays. 

Having a set group of players is necessary for stability, but in Southgate's case, he does not seem too fussed about leaving any out when it is warranted.  

The overall feeling seems to be too cautious and next month’s World Cup squad selection deadline will be the final opportunity to give what looks to be a stale set-up an overdue refresh.

A healthy record at major tournaments

In 2013, newly-appointed FA chief Greg Dyke said in his first speech: "English football is a tanker that needs turning.

"I want to set the whole of English football two targets. The first is for the England team to at least reach the semi-finals of the Euro Championship in 2020 and the second is for us to win the World Cup in 2022."

Fast-forward a number of years later, England achieved the first target by reaching the final of the delayed Euro 2020 in what became a unifying run for the nation. 

Hopes of achieving the second target would have been sky-high after the way they performed at the tournament, but a big question mark still remains due to their patchy form in the run-in. 

While it is a gloomy atmosphere at present, there may be slight optimism looking ahead when keeping tabs on England's record at major tournaments under Southgate's guidance. 

The Three Lions reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in their first tournament before last year's Euro final heartbreak.  

The progression with Southgate is there on paper, but the latest displays seem to be showing some regression and the potential that England have already reached their peak. 

England have the firepower at their disposal to threaten, though, in the form of Harry Kane as the team's talisman, while there is plenty of in-form talent surrounding him including Reece JamesDeclan Rice and Jude Bellingham to name a few. 

There are a lot of good players in the mix and ultimately it is up to Southgate to piece them together in a way that will yield the best results. 

But he also has to find a way of adapting away from his staple back-three when the going gets tough should England find themselves chasing a game, which is a very possible scenario at a World Cup. 



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