It has been five years now since Gareth Southgate took the almighty leap from youth level coaching to senior management, swapping England Under 21s for the nation’s senior men’s team. The Three Lions were in a state of disarray when Southgate stepped in. Embarrassed by Iceland in the first knockout round at Euro 2016, Roy Hodgson was sacked and the former England international was sworn in on a temporary basis after Sam Allardyce’s short-lived tenure.
However, after a string of decent results whilst acting as caretaker manager, Southgate was given the job on a permanent basis and the English Football Association hasn’t looked back since. The 51-year-old has made the country fall back in love with the national team again, taking them to a World Cup semi-final in Russia in 2018 and their first European Championship final at Wembley earlier this year.
‘Southgate you’re the one’ often echoes around London to the tune of Atomic Kitten’s hit ‘Whole Again’ when England are doing well at major tournaments, yet despite being one of the nation’s best coaches in recent years, he is more often than not subjected to negativity from the side’s fanbase and the English media between tournaments, with praise for the gaffer hard to come by.
It’s hard to fathom how a manager who has done as much for a side as Southgate gets cut so little slack and not a lot of backing. The national team is no longer a side full of individuals or players who hate each other due to their club allegiances, they are one unit who have each other’s backs at all times and the confidence built within this young, exciting squad is second to none.
The results are there for everyone to see as well, with England now amongst the favorites on the bet exchange each and every time a major tournament rolls around. 42 wins and just 10 defeats from 66 matches with a win rate of over 63% is a record not to be sniffed at, especially when you cast your mind back to Steve McClaren’s era, Hodgson’s time, or even Sven-Göran Eriksson’s ‘Golden Generation’ — all of whom had win rates under 60%.
Paired alongside the likes of Poland, Andorra, and Hungary in a tricky World Cup qualifying group, Southgate’s side is undefeated with six wins and two draws, and whilst they have not yet secured their place on the plane to Qatar next November, mainly due to other results not going in their favor during the recent international break, it’s pretty much a guarantee that England will secure their spot at the World Cup when they take on Albania and San Marino next month — making it three successive major tournament qualifications in a row during Southgate’s tenure.
The next thing on the FA’s agenda has surely got to be tying the 51-year-old down with a new contract. With a year or so left on his current deal, the association is keen to extend Southgate’s time at the Wembley helm, but whether or not the man himself decides to stay after next year’s World Cup remains to be seen.
“I think I said last month that I had asked to put that [contract talks] further back into the autumn as I just wanted to focus on these games and also to give the time to make the right decision,” Southgate said during the recent internationals.
“After the Euros, there is a huge amount of emotion and feeling and fatigue from going through a tournament like that. I want to make sure that I am making the right decisions for the right reasons.
“The discussions are very much open and Mark Bellingham [FA chief executive] has been really supportive but I have really felt this task – of getting the country to the World Cup – was the priority. We can look at everything in the next few weeks.”
When you boast a record as good as Southgate’s, it is hard to argue against him being offered a new contract. But being the manager of England, when the bar is set so high and the demand is to wipe the floor with everyone, must be one of the toughest jobs in world football. It is clear that the FA wants to keep him on board, and he is certainly still the right man for the job, but whether or not he signs a new contract, we will just have to wait and see!