GARETH SOUTHGATE. First among equals. From a shortlist of one.
In a year of shocks headlined by Trump and Brexit, Southgate’s elevation to the permanent post of England manager is most definitely a strike back for the establishment. Some might venture that is not too bad a thing...
His long-expected coronationwas confirmed by the Football Association following a board meeting at St George’s Park yesterday, with the 46-year-old signing a four-year deal – his nomination as Sam Allardyce’s full-time successor effectively amounting to a rubber-stamping exercise.
It is understood that the former Middlesbrough manager will earn around £2m a year, four times his previous salary and higher than initial forecasts, with significant performance-related bonuses available.
The terms are likely to include provision for a break clause after the 2018 World Cup.
Little fanfare heralded the announcement, although Southgate’s pride at his promotion was manifest, allied to an overwhelming business-like desire to now ‘get on with the job’.
Straight out of the Theresa May school of acceptance speeches.
Southgate, unbeaten in four games in interim charge which saw him take seven World Cup qualifying points from a possible nine, including a 3-0 win over Scotland – while also overseeing an encouraging draw with Spain – said: “I am extremely proud to be appointed England manager.
“However, I am also conscious that getting the job is one thing, now I want to do the job successfully.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the players over these past four games and I think there is huge potential.
“I am determined to give everything I have to give the country a team that they are proud of and one that they are going to enjoy watching play and develop. For me, the hard work starts now.”
Sensible and pragmatic are the two words which immediately spring to mind when analysing the decision to entrust guardianship of England’s senior football team to Southgate, whose family home is in Harrogate.
When it came to the business of appointing their third manager of 2016 and fifth in the past decade, it was always likely that the mood for a swinging revolution held limited appeal among Football Association overlords.
Revolutions and hiring showbusiness names do not come cheap either. It has not exactly served England well in the past – think Fabio Capello – while the field of available candidates was hardly stellar in any case.
Southgate may not be a garlanded ‘celebrity’ name in management. But neither is Spain’s Julen Lopetegiu or Italy’s Giampiero Ventura. Or Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning manager Fernando Santos. And who exactly was Joachim Low back in 2004?
The elevation of an age-group manager to the senior post is also a path which has been followed successfully across the globe many times over.
Southgate’s lack of big club experience may be used as a stick to beat him with, although that particular weapon is blunted for many by the sight of a sixty-something Roy Hodgson resembling a complete tactical novice during England’s sorry Euro 2016 disintegration in Nice in June.
The off-the-field judgement call of Hodgson’s similarly-aged successor Allardyce, which led to his unedifying downturn, also left a great deal to be desired.
Given Allardyce’s indiscretions, the allure of ‘safe pair of hands’ in Southgate will have been considerable. Yet to label him as a ‘yes man’ is simplistic.
Unfailingly polite he may be, but Southgate, according to those who know him well, does not suffer fools gladly either, and possesses a granite core. Those qualities may come in handy.
In his brief interim spell in charge, he quickly showed he is not afraid to make big decisions, with his demotion of Wayne Rooney in his second game in charge providing cast-iron evidence of that.
The current stock of Southgate is also something in his favour, with his overseeing of England’s first win at the Toulon tournament in 22 years in the summer being one big tick, especially after presiding over a disappointing European Under-21s Championship finals in 2015.
Given that several leading players had publicly urged the FA to formalise Southgate’s appointment as full-time boss, it is abundantly clear that the dressing room are also firmly behind him, even if many fans across the country are perhaps hedging their bets. Time will tell. But consider the following.
If any fair-minded supporter was handed a blank sheet of paper and asked to write down the reasons why Southgate should be handed the job and why he should not, chances are that the reasons for might just hold sway.
Maybe not by too many. But that is not really the point.
The name of Southgate may not be perfect for some. But this is not a perfect world.
‘Twas ever thus where the England national football team are concerned.