Is England’s Gareth Southgate A Good Manager? His CV Says No

The performance of Gareth Southgate’s England the 1-0 defeat by Hungary was grimly familiar.

Exhausted players, coming off the back of a relentless PremierPINC
League season, struggled to form a cohesive outfit and were out-battled and out-thought by a side they should, on paper, be routing.

When he stepped up for media duties in the wake of the defeat, the rhetoric from manager Gareth Southgate also sounded like something English fans have heard before.

“It has been a long season,” he said, “the heat was a factor and took a lot out of the players and we tried to refresh the team earlier than normal. The balance of finding out about new things and the consistency of the regular team, I have to look at whether I got that right.”

“I don’t want to be too harsh on them, these are games we need to learn from. They are bitterly disappointed because we want to keep winning matches. If we want to be a team right at the top tier of football, we need to come here and win.”

England knows all about sluggish defeats in warm conditions. From the World Cup exits of 2002 and 2018 through to the loss in the final of last summer’s Euro 2020, the nation often succumbs to a team that keeps the ball better.

It’s undeniable that progress in major tournaments has been more plentiful under Gareth Southgate, but while previous coaches, like Bobby Robson or Terry Venables, were lauded for glorious failures, the criticism of the manager continues regardless of his achievements.

This is because of the quality of the squad. The consensus is the former Aston Villa captain is working with a better set of players than any of his predecessors. Where opinions diverge is about Southgate’s skill in getting the most out of them.

The former Middlesborough manager might have a better record than nearly every other England coach, but, when the team gets a bad result, the calls for him to be sacked are never far away.

It’s not just in England that there is a perception the nation is wasting its talent, media around the world have been perplexed by the style of soccer and selections made by the coach.

The press in Germany continued to be utterly baffled by his decision to barely play then-Bourissa Dortmund star, Jadon Sancho, at Euro 2020, while Italian commentators also expressed surprise at the unwillingness to place trust in the talent available.

But the underlying reason why Southgate is still doubted, despite reaching the Semi-Final and Final of the last two tournaments, is his CV.

The worst ever qualifications to be an England coach

It used to be that the England job was the pinnacle of a manager’s career.

Ever since Alf Ramsey joined the national side, having taken Ipswich Town from the Second Division to champions of England, the country’s best managers happily walked away from jobs at the top of the club game for the role.

Don Revie quit a Leeds United team at the peak of its powers for the job, while his great rival Brian Clough pitched himself for the role shortly before leading Nottingham Forest to two European Cups.

Even in the early 2000s, as English managers at the top level declined in number, it was still attractive enough to pry Scudetto-winning Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson from Lazio.

Decades of underachievement combined with the club game attaining a level of prestige that outstrips international soccer, however, has meant the job of England manager is not the prized post it once was.

But even by this considerably lower bar Southgate’s qualifications for the role are probably the worst there has ever been.

His three-year spell at Middlesborough saw the club finish 12th and 13th before relegation in 2009.

A subsequent stint as England Under-21 coach saw him qualify for the 2015 European Championships then finish bottom of the group.

His ascent to the top job came by accident, the previous incumbent Sam Allardyce was caught up in a newspaper sting by the Daily Telegraph newspaper and suddenly departed.

Southgate stepped into the breach and, with confidence in the national team at an all-time low following a humiliating defeat by Iceland in Euro 2016, he was then handed the position permanently with little fanfare.

The ex-Middlesborough manager pulled off a shock by guiding England to its first World Cup Semi-Final in nearly three decades and subsequent success in the Euros means mentions of his patchy CV are rarer.

But even Southgate’s most ardent fans will acknowledge, that his big-game experience pales in comparison to the managers of international rivals.

Around 40% of his 259 games managed have come with England with either the under-21s or full team.

To put that in perspective he has a third of the experience of his opponent on the touchline of the Euro 2020 final, Roberto Mancini, who has coached for years at Champions League clubs and won league titles in England and Italy.

And it has been at these big moments when Southgate’s lack of knowledge has truly shown.

Does experience matter?

England is far from alone in struggling to attract managers who are at the peak of their powers.

Perhaps only Germany with its appointment of Hansi Flick, fresh from guiding Bayern Munich to a Champions League title, can claim to have a coach who arrived directly from the top of club soccer.

Coaches of the other prestigious national teams tend to either be winding down after a successful club career or are coming off a slightly sticky patch.

Italy’s Roberto Mancini might have an impressive medal collection, but he only got the role after disappointing spells with Inter Milan and Zenit St Petersburg.

Spain coach Luis Enrique is a Champions League-winning manager with Barcelona but left after the side began to struggle, his previous spells at Roma and Celta Vigo were not impressive.

Even World Cup-winning Didier Deschamps’s managerial club career is only reasonably impressive, a Ligue 1 championship with Marseille and a Champions League Final with Monaco over two decades are his stand-out achievements.

But the undeniable fact is that all of these coaches have better records than Southgate, they have more experience at the highest level of club soccer and, in the most basic of terms, have coached around double the number of games at least.

The tactics of Deschamps or Enrique may be questioned, but no one in their right mind would suggest they were coaches still learning their trade.

This experience matters most when you reach a moment, as England has in the last two tournaments when the manager can make the difference.

In both the Semi-Final against Croatia and the Final versus Italy in the summer of 2021 this showed. Southgate struggled to respond when the opponent began to take control of the game with a tactical tweak.

When Mancini introduced Domenico Berardi for Ciro Immobile he changed the Italian shape and England couldn’t compete.

Southgate’s side surrendered the initiative and the lead in the game, just as they had against Croatia three years earlier.

While defeat in both games was on penalties, there was the nagging feeling that a coach with similar experience to Mancini would have been able to respond.

International management is all about actions in a handful of high-pressure games and it is impossible to ignore Southgate’s lack of experience there.

A look back at the history books shows that while not every coach who has won the World Cup has excelled at club level, they did get more experience under their belt than Southgate.

The only coach with as sparse a managerial CV as Southgate would be Franz Beckenbauer who led Germany to glory in 1990.

Although the big difference between him and the man in England’s dugout is he’d done it as a player.