Managerial credentials are something that Gareth Southgate lacked when he was given the England job. That being said, the positive vibes that he has installed in and around this squad cannot be overlooked whatsoever. For the first time in years, us as fans are enamoured by these players and that works both ways. We see them as people again!
On a club level, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a prime example of someone getting a major job that doesn’t align with their qualifications. The former Man United player may be surrounded by negativity right now, but the majority of fans won’t deny that he brought an increasingly positive atmosphere into the picture at Old Trafford. The same goes for Southgate. Whether it be the ‘golden generation’ failing to deliver of the disgraceful rein of Big Sam, England football gets a lot of negative press and rightly so. Southgate’s arrival allowed the players to be humanized again. Did they win the World Cup in 2018? No. Did they win the Euros last year? No. But even when that is considered, the upturn in relative success has a direct correlation with the enthusiasm and community-feel, felt by everyone involved in the organization.
The question at hand is regarding Southgate’s selection policy though. He stressed his desire to prioritise form when he first took the job. Is that evident today? Truthfully, no. Fan bias and club allegiance aside, the man in charge continues to pick players who are undeserving of a spot in accordance with his supposed criteria. It would be a stretch to expect the exclusion of anyone and everyone out of form, but at the same time, where does it start?
Harry Kane may be the captain but he has been on awful form for this poor Tottenham team. Tyrone Mings is another example- he has been dropped by Aston Villa recently who are on turgid form, yet he features. This comes at the expense of Fikayo Tomori, a young defender who continues to boss it in Italy with Milan under Stefano Pioli. Emile Smith-Rowe was previously excluded from the squad but following a string of injuries- Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and James Ward-Prowse all pulling out- the Arsenal man has got the call-up he deserves.
Fans are obviously going to back their clubs and players, this being reflected in the calls for the likes of Ben White and Conor Gallagher to be featured in Southgate’s plans. Continuity is somewhat essential in fairness so for him to do it on solely form every camp would be far too disruptive. This is where the debate comes about. How does one balance it out? Players should be rewarded for their form yet it would be ludicrous to expect captains and other senior figures that adopt the leadership roles to be left out. Whether it be Kane or Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson or Raheem Sterling, these are all key figures that help keep the ball rolling as such.
In this upcoming international break, the Three Lions are set to welcome Albania to Wembley on Friday before travelling to San Marino for a Monday night game which will be the last of this stage of qualifying. Some fans would argue that these games are a perfect time to experiment but in Southgate’s defence, these are games we need to win. On top of that, the World Cup is right around the corner now-roughly twelve months stand between this squad and the Qatar World Cup. At which, there will be high expectations for Harry Kane and co.
Is Southgate deserving of this criticism then? Well, football is a sport of opinions. Some of the very best players ever were told no at times in their career and so whether we agree with his selections or not, his track record at the helm earns him the benefit of the doubt for me personally.