Football in England hasn’t felt this exciting for a long time. 2018 has seen World Cup euphoria, an overwhelming wave of new talent, the illumination of model-manager Southgate, but most importantly the collaborative stride for greater improvement and success. This desire is becoming a defining aspect of modern football. Take Mourinho and Guardiola. Think of their contrasting demeanours and aspirations, but then of their different league positions. Although not yet the finished article, England are quickly becoming the model 2018 international team. Fresh tactics, fresh faces, fresh love. 50 years of hurt may be coming to an end.
Southgate is not a revolutionary. The shift from the ‘proper football man’ to the compassionate, caring but meticulous geek has been a gradual one- dating back to the start of Arsène Wenger’s illustrious, revolutionary reign. No longer is player-deprecation a common practicality. No longer is it fashionable to dismiss sports science and technology, or get blind drunk on a Friday as long as your ‘up and at em’ the next day as ‘they don’t fancy it’. Southgate embodies the responsibilities of a modern day manager.
He has a magnificent connection with the young players ,which is partly down to his 3 year spell as Under-21’s manager, but also respects the old guard- most recently by allowing the Rooney testimonial. There is no dogmatism towards a certain style of football but he is tactically in touch as we have seen with the recent formation switch up (Check Below). One may estimate that, due to his constant studying, Southgate is pretentious at times- one couldn’t be further from the truth. He will listen to the players and ask them questions as he knows that they possess important, first-hand knowledge which he doesn’t. But most signifcantly, he is a warm-hearted, down to earth, caring human being who makes a legitimate effort to bond with his team and their fans. Danny Rose spoke of how England were his salvation during a difficult spell of depression and the succour offered by Southgate. There is a real camaraderie : No club division, just some fun with mates…on inflatable unicorns in the pool. However the highlight of Southgate’s compassion came at a time of great euphoria. In fact, it wouldn’t have crossed many peoples minds to, in the aftermath of a revolutionary penalty-shootout victory, run over to the opposition and console the unfortunate scapegoat in Carlos Bacca and Mateus Uribe. Southgate knows how it feels. Memories of 96 still sting with a passion.
We speak of Southgate as an angel, and an immortal, a god. When in reality he is just a normal, well-moralled man from Crawley who has his flaws just like all of us. But he has achieved something unique for England. He has given us back our identity, and reignited our love. Something that can take you a long way in football.
Exciting youngsters need game time to fulfil potential
It becomes all too easy in the world of football to get caught up in the moment and make outlandish statements. “It’s our year this year”, “I have never seen a better player” or “This season is gearing up to be the best in decades”. When in reality, it is unjustified, false hope. But, although this may seem hyprocital, there have been myriad records broken in 2018 for English Football. Some statistical, some objective admittedly. Yet when has there ever been 11 teams expecting promotion in the Championship ? When has there ever been a more dominant Premier League side than Man City ? Statistically, never. And has there been more young, English talent since the golden generation of 2006 ? I highly doubt it. Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Maddison, Ryan Sessegnon, Harry Winks, Ruben Loftus-CheelBen Chilwell and Joe Gomez are all spoken extremely highly of and have frightening potential. However, equally as talented are : Morgan Gibbs-White, Aaron Wan Bissaka, Emil Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Demarai Gray, Ademola Lookman, Lewis Cook, Freddie Woodman, Domanic Solanke, Tom Davies, Harvey Barnes, Rhian Brewster and the list just goes on and on and on. “He is one special talent” is becoming an irritating platitude. The difference between these youngsters is that some are consistently exposed to a high level of football, whereas others are languishing on the bench. Southgate has established the rule that in order to warrant an England call up one must be playing regular, first division football. Some are already proving their worth at English’s elite, some are doing so alongside English’s elite, while others have sought opportunities abroad- particularly in Germany which is renowned for it’s player-development. But the common denominator is that they all have the potential to play for Europe’s heavyweights- a thigh rubbing prospect for us England fans. A prospect that has not been achieved with a click of the fingers, but through 6 years of endeavour at St Georges that is finally paying off. Dan Ashworth, the Technical Director, has done so much work behind the scenes in forging a winning culture and a positive vibe emanating throughout all England’s age groups, and a citadel of excellence in St Georges Park. A citadel of excellence where the senior players can be seen playing video games with the children to reverberate that English spirit, and where the first team are given the same instructions as the Under 10’s to ensure that everybody is on the same length and playing positive, modern football. “Courage” is Southgates buzzword. Playing out from the back and pressing from the front. And in the quest to find the new Gazza: courage to make mistakes. Young players are now encouraged to try those flicks, to attempt that through ball, to beat that man. It has payed off. But we must remember that the aforementioned ‘prospect’ is only a ‘prospect’. Southgate and whoever Ashworth’s successor is need to do all they can to ensure that their creations are playing consistently, week in-week out. France left out Benzema, Lacazette, Laporte and Martial but still won the World Cup- England may also soon find themselves pleading for 33 men rather than 23.
New tactics, formation
The 3-3-2-2 from the World Cup left the flanks exposed which Croatia at the World Cup, and Spain in the Nations League took advantage of (both of which used 433 formations which are particularly problematic because of the flying fullbacks). Lingard and Alli aren’t disciplined enough to fill in alongside the flanks and when the ball did go beyond Trippier- often due to his defensive problems- and they were there to cover, it left few bodies in the middle of the park- where England were overrun. The channels themselves were bombarded against Spain with their flying fullbacks due to this lack of cover. Sitting back and absorbing pressure didn’t suit our personnel. Alli and Lingard are not by any means defensive players, and Kieran Trippier is renowned for his work up the other end. The new 4-3-3 formation not only supplies more midfield solidity, but also incorporates key personnel and an attacking midfielder who can link play. Alli, Maddison and Barkley could all play that roll. Here is England’s best 11 for me :
Shaw Stones Maguire Walker
Winks Dier Alli
Sterling Kane Lingard
Areas to improve
Enough eulogising, England have a long way to go before they can start considering themselves contenders for any silverware. I have already briefly mentioned England’s pressing game- similar to Liverpool- but when under the cosh it slowly faded. Whether it is fitness or mental strength i don’t know, but Southgate must go over it.
England have to keep possession better. Two ball playing centre backs highlight Southgate’s ethos, but England will struggle in the deep heat of Quatar if they try and keep the ball like they did in Russia. Perhaps, playing Lingard- a winger by all accounts- in the midfield wasn’t conducive to fluidity, or maybe it was fear. 50 years of hurt is bound to provoke irrational criticism from the media, which is off-putting for the players. However, after a successful World Cup where England made an effort to bond with the press through bowling and darts, the relationship appears to be in a state of convalescence.