Revived England roll on under 'too nice' Southgate

PRAGUE • It has been three years to the day that Gareth Southgate took charge of his first England game, when few in the 81,000 crowd who watched his side labour to a 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley would have staked too much on him enjoying a long reign.

The job had rather fallen into the hands of the former Under-21 coach, following Sam Allardyce's resignation after being embroiled in an undercover newspaper sting.

Southgate was initially put in temporary charge to act as a "safe pair of hands" to guide England through choppy waters following their humiliating last-16 exit to Iceland under Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016.

But fast forward three years and he has transformed England from laughing stock to a vibrant, free-scoring side tipped as one of the favourites to win next year's European Championship, which will be held in 12 different European cities.

In 37 games in charge, Southgate has won 21, drawn nine and lost seven, but more importantly he has blooded young players, stamped his style on the team and has acted with dignity in victory and defeat.

Many had said he was "too nice" to be a success, but the former Middlesbrough boss has become the most popular Three Lions manager since Terry Venables led them to the semi-finals of Euro 1996.

England have scored 19 goals in four Euro 2020 qualifiers and face the Czech Republic in Prague today, where few are expecting anything other than another emphatic win in Group A to book their Finals berth.

Where the team once attracted scorn and ridicule, Southgate's players have since become a source of pride and ahead of their trip, he hailed the re-connection with the fans as the "most pleasing aspect of the last few years".

  • 57% 

  • Gareth Southgate's win rate as England coach - 21 wins, nine draws and seven losses in 37 games.

"It was important to me that we played with a style that our supporters enjoy watching," he said. "We knew there were some good young players coming through.

"We've been ranked fourth or fifth in the world for the last 12 months because of consistently good performances."

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice have all been fast-tracked into the first team, while Mason Mount made his full debut against Bulgaria last month and Chelsea teammate Fikayo Tomori has also earned his first call-up.

Another one of the Blues' youth brigade, Tammy Abraham, is also in line to earn his first competitive cap against the Czechs after a superb start to the season in which he has had eight Premier League strikes.

With the climax of Euro 2020 being staged in England, there is genuine belief the Three Lions can surpass their semi-final appearance at last year's World Cup in Russia, but the manager knows there could still be bumps in the road.

"We've got a much bigger emphasis on youth so there's still a lot for us to do," said Southgate, who will be missing James Maddison through illness.

"The challenges never stop. Every month, we... review what could be better and the areas we can improve on to be considered the best team in the world."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2019, with the headline 'Revived England roll on under 'too nice' Southgate'. Print Edition | Subscribe