Featured image courtesy of Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images
England manager, Gareth Southgate, as well as his assistant, Steve Holland, has had his contract to lead the national team extended until 2024. The two-year extension means Southgate will remain manager until December 2024, taking in two more tournaments - the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the European Championship.
Having initially taken over as caretaker manager from Sam Allardyce in September 2016, Southgate was swiftly appointed permanently two months later. In 2018, he led England to the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 28 years. He also led the Three Lions to a very respectable third place finish in the Uefa Nations League before reaching the Euro 2020 final, representing very steady progress. Losing out on European glory to the Italians on penalties represented despair at the final hurdle, but, it has paved the way for hope too. Can the team push on and go one step further in Qatar? Southgate certainly thinks so.
“It remains an incredible privilege to lead this team," he said. "We have a great opportunity in front of us and I know they (players) and the fans are all excited about what this squad could achieve.”
The team seems united. That much is obvious. The mixture of world class players and exciting youth creates a sense of optimism and hope. A great opportunity for sure. But what of the fans? Are they excited? Strangely, not all of them seem to be. But why? Southgate has incrementally improved the team’s finish in the last three tournaments (World Cup 2018, the Nations League and Euro 2020). But not everybody is behind him. Some say an infatuation with a back three and/or deploying two defensive midfield players is over-cautious. Southgate has favoured anchoring his midfield with two from Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips rather than unleashing together, the creative sparks of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling. A foundation of defensive players, though, has not let him down. Southgate, a defender in his playing days, saw full backs Kieran Trippier (against Croatia in the semi-final of World Cup 2018) and Luke Shaw (in the Euro 2020 final against Italy) fire England into early leads in the latter stages of both tournaments.
Despite some opposition, the FA have given him time to build. If he sees through his newly renewed contract, he would become the longest-serving manager since Bobby Robson - behind only Walter Winterbottom and World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey. His re-building job has already been a success. Southgate picked up a broken England team following their premature exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of lowly ranked Iceland.
“We're now in a group of teams who can genuinely challenge” recognised Southgate. “That wasn't the case six or seven years ago. We went with hope, but now we can genuinely be positive”.
So the England manager has said it. We, as fans, can go to tournaments in expectation rather than hope. The focus now moves on to ensuring his team realises it’s glowing potential. Southgate himself, has experienced failure. In Euro 96, his penalty eliminated England from the tournament. Since then, England have froze in the international headlights. Early elimination from major tournaments was the norm. Since Gareth Southgate’s fluffed penalty kick in 1996, David Beckham’s petulant kick defined England’s campaign at World Cup 98, Phil Neville’s mistimed slide tackle was blamed for early departure in 2000, David Seaman’s misjudgment of the Brazilian Ronaldinho’s free kick ruined 2002 and Darius Vassell was blamed for England’s exit from Euro 2004. In 2006 Wayne Rooney’s ‘stamp’ and subsequent Ronaldo ‘wink’ broke English hearts, and sharpened journalists swords. In 2008 Steve McClaren carried the can, the 2010 World Cup exit brought the spotlight on the FA who was blamed by many for failing to nurture the technical ability of England’s youngsters, whilst expectation had dropped at Euro 2012 with most not harbouring much hope. The 2014 exit re-fired the criticism. This time manager Roy Hodgson was criticized for his team not managing to match the levels of previously unfancied Costa Rica and a Luis Suarez led Uruguay. It was being knocked out again by an unfancied nation, this time Iceland, at Euro 2016 that was the final nail in the manager Roy Hodgson’s coffin. All of this of course, preceded Southgate’s current reign. There hasnt been too much disappointment tagged to Southgate's time at the helm.
The Golden Generation failed. But now, multiple diamonds sparkle around the England manager. It his job, now, to ensure they sparkle as brightly as they can.