Fine-tuning needed but Gareth Southgate remains the right fit and good news for both Leeds United and England
GARETH SOUTHGATE is here to stay – which is good news for England, and good news for Leeds United too.
Good news for England because despite the excruciating pain of Sunday's Euro 2020 final, Southgate is ultimately the man to have steered the Three Lions to their first major international tournament final for 55 years.
Continuity is a rare commodity these days in football.
But look what can happen when you stick to a plan.
The semi-finals of the World Cup, the European Championships final, a force to be reckoned with, not just across Europe but across the globe.
England will get the chance to prove the latter in just 16 months’ time at the 2022 Qatar World Cup for which the Three Lions are joint third-favourites along with Germany and Spain as part of a market headed by Brazil and then France.
Speaking at a Monday morning press conference following Sunday night's defeat to Italy, Southgate did not want to be drawn on his long term future but said he intended to lead the Three Lions to Qatar.
If the FA have their way, Southgate will be staying after that too as they will reportedly offer him a new deal beyond next year’s World Cup.
Euro 2024 in Germany will be next although Southgate said himself that he would never want to outstay his welcome.
But given a bit of tinkering, the sky really ought to be the limit for an England side under Southgate who are clearly getting better and better under a classic English manager who just seems a good fit for the job.
England have looked far and wide in an attempt to regain international glories over the years, and initially to the great Don Revie following the end of World Cup-winning Sir Alf Ramsey’s 11 years in charge.
Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson were next before Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glen Hoddle and then Kevin Keegan.
Then the FA tried something different, something foreign via Sven Goran Erikkson followed by Steve McClaren, another foreigner in Fabio Capello and then Roy Hodgson before Sam Allardyce.
And then there was Southgate, appointed to the role in 2016 after stepping up from his role as under-21s boss.
Southgate’s only previous managerial experience had come at Middlesbrough and three years at the Riverside were brought to an end with the north east side having been relegated to the Championship.
But the Watford-born former defender found himself back in management in August 2013 when succeeding Stuart Pearce as under-21s boss and the former Three Lions centre-back has not looked back since, even though it has not always been plain sailing.
Then again, is it ever for any England boss? Particularly given the off-field events that a Three Lions boss has to deal with, something Southgate has handled well.
On the pitch, despite taking the Three Lions to the World Cup semi-final in Russia, there were plenty of moans and groans from fans in the build up to the Euros.
‘Too defensive’, ‘not utilising England’s golden generation of attackers’, ‘start Jack Grealish’, ‘what is the need to play holding midfielders?’.
But the very calm and unflustered Southgate has stuck to his guns and the results proved exactly why he opted for calls such as the so-called double pivot – to make England hard to beat.
Ultimately, England were not beaten once at Euro 2020 - only on penalties - and 50-year-old Southgate approached last night’s final with a record of 60 games played resulting in 39 victories, 11 draws and just 10 defeats from his four years and 10 months in charge.
England conceded just once in the run to the Euro 2020 final and crucially Southgate has evidently created a superb team bond with every player singing from the same hymn sheet, even those left out.
It can’t be easy telling the likes of a Grealish or a Phil Foden that they will be on the bench but Southgate is working the oracle with almost certainly the strongest England squad ever seen.
Even Italy centre-back Giorgio Chiellini said the Three Lions would probably have got to the final if just using their reserves – their substitutes – and he’s probably right.
But the extremely likable, polite and smart Southgate is the one making it tick and a Leeds United midfielder in Kalvin Phillips has been key to making that happen.
Southgate clearly rates the Yorkshire Pirlo very highly and the 25-year-old would almost certainly have played every single minute in the run up to the final but for being booked in the last 16 clash against Germany.
That led to Southgate protecting the Whites midfielder and taking him off during the second half of the quarter-final clash against Ukraine but Phillips was then straight back into the side for the semi-final and played the full 120 minutes.
Southgate also lives in the area and the fact that he will be staying is great news for Phillips and almost certainly great news for Leeds United too given that Patrick Bamford, Jack Harrison and Luke Ayling are also all on his radar.
The Three Lions boss will also be fully aware of the Whites youngsters bubbling below the surface such as Three Lions youth internationals Sam Greenwood, Joe Gelhardt and Charlie Cresswell.
Ones for future years, the long-term future that is.
Whether that long-term future is under Southgate remains to be seen and despite the superb progress at England's last two major international tournaments, there is still room for improvement.
Southgate admits himself he is still learning as a manager, and knows that the buck stops with him in defeat, even on penalties.
Despite England being very hard to beat and evidently building from a rock solid base, there's still an obvious feeling that the Three Lions can be and need to be more of an attacking force against the big nations and let off the leash somewhat earlier - from the start perhaps.
There's a feeling that Southgate often leaves it too late to make attacking changes and surely Grealish who clearly had the Italian defence worried sick, should have been brought on earlier in Sunday's final.
But Southgate is not blind to to the attacking talent at his disposal and admitted at his Monday morning press conference that it was ultimately the longer term aim for his side to put their stamp on games against the big guns.
Instead, Southgate basically set his side up with the opposition in mind - and it almost worked. Until the dreaded penalties which are ultimately a total lottery.
Even so, Sunday's final just felt like one that got away, a game in which England really ought to have been crowned European champions.
But it feels like it's coming, not coming home, not yet, but on its way given the current rate of progress be that at Qatar 2022 or Germany 2024.
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Thank you Laura Collins