Gareth Southgate’s managerial career looks promising at the moment. His management team exceeded all expectations at the 2018 Football World Cup, when England reached the last four teams in the tournament. This, after the national team disappointed in all World Cups for decades prior. The English team is now ranked at number six in the world. No mean feat.
Now armed with a lengthy, lucrative contract to manage the English men’s football team, Gareth has a lot of expectations to live up to. English fans and media are unforgiving even when their unrealistic expectations aren’t met. What has Southgate got planned for the demanding fans for the 2020 European Cup? The media talks about him bringing in a new ‘Golden Generation’ of young players with a winning mentality which is expected to auger well for the long term. Something that the English squad has lacked in the years preceding Southgate’s national appointment.
Gareth Southgate was previously the England under 21 manager from 2013 to 2016. Overall, the results achieved with him managing this team, were good. This experience provide Gareth with valuable insight from having worked with these players, some of whom he brought into the 2018 World Cup squad. In the subsequent friendly matches, Gareth is increasingly adding young players into the squad. Competing against Spain for example, their fitness, stamina and speed were a joy to watch. The intensity of of the English performance and average distances covered by each player is on the rise.
The purpose of this Strategy Story is to discuss possible ideas or suggestions tpwards a competitive football strategy – that Southgate could embrace, to prepare for the 2020 European Cup. Let’s first consider the 12 issues mentioned below:
What are the broad brush strokes of Southgate’s approach to managing his squad going forward?
- At the 2018 World Cup, the squad were told to adopt a policy of family first. Since family values are important to Gareth, it was a policy that came naturally for him to lead.
- Also, he omitted players from his 2018 squad that were no longer suited to play the his game plans ( especially the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formations) he had in mind. Or those who had personalities that could disrupt the team spirit in training or in the changing room.
- Gareth boldly decided to pick 2018 players on form and suitability for his game plans, not on their reputation. The old adage of structure follows strategy comes to mind. Experienced players like Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere and Gary Cahill have all been dropped from his squad. Looking towards the future, Gareth also isn’t shy to reposition key players, like moving Eric Dier from midfied to the back three.
- Gareth Southgate fluffed his Euro 96 spot kick that ejected England out of the tournament. Instead of hiding from this failure, Gareth has come up with a tactic to solve the problem of relying on luck at these critical moments. In the the book, Zero to Hero  Southgate aims to ensure that his current squad can approach penalties more relaxed and better equipped than he was. He said, “Shoot-outs are tough. We had talked long and hard about owning the process of a shootout” explained the manager. “ They kept calm. The players have taken it all on board. It’s a special moment for us. We looked at technique, how we needed to be as a team, the goalkeeper’s role.” Harry Maguire is quoted in the book  talking about Southgate’s approach to preparing for shoot-outs: ” We’ve worked tirelessly on them. The gaffer has been reiterating it’s not all about luck; it’s a skill under pressure and the boys did it well. The staff have studied penalties for weeks and it’s paid off”
- Southgate too, has instilled in players that it is no longer acceptable for England, with its pedigree and resources, to not aim to win international tournaments. The introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan in 2012. supports this attitude. This plan is designed to improve and increase the quality and quantity of coaching that young English players receive.
- It’s been a long time since the England manager was someone who had actually played for the English national team. The modern game expects premiership and national teams to be led by seemingly the ‘best man for the job’ irrespective of their nationality. That said, there is a big difference between being paid to coach a team to win and having to instill national pride, for the honour of leading your country ….. irrespective of what you are paid.
- Southgate is not without his critics,  The BBC’s chief football writer Phil McNulty ran an article headed, ‘Gareth Southgate appointed England manager: Is he good enough?’ This was accompanied by a graph illustrating that Southgate’s club record was the worst of any England boss over the previous 20 years. There were many detractors and Southgate knew he had to win over the hearts and minds of his critics by his results on the pitch. He passed his first real test in Russia.
- Southgate soon built a tight unit in his squad, selections, substitutions and player support from the bench were expected to be accepted with good grace. He set the example by communicating respectfully, thoughtfully and with warm humour. Entitlement, ego and showboating were removed to form a group who had to work hard and take nothing for granted.
- The goalkeeper is now selected not only for his keeping skills but also his ability to anticipate risks, the tactical distribution of the ball to start attacking maneuvers and for bravery when people could get hurt.
- Despite Gareth’s ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ image, he is able to make the tough choices that could annoy wealthy egos. His quiet, assertive, polite, confident manner helps to gain the respect of the squad. He doesn’t have to assert his authority, he has already ticked that box, with his leadership that started with the England U21 squad.
- Southgate’s influences include Steve Coppell, a quiet and insightful manager who had a reputation for player development and tactical thinking. He appointed Gareth as team captain at Selhurst Park. Terry Venables was first to bring Southgate into the England squad as a player, but it was under Glenn Hoddle (a gifted England player himself) that he earned the most caps. He also played a few games for England under each of Kevin Keegan, Howard Wilkinson and Graham Taylor. All deep thinkers of the game, who had a positive influence in developing Gareth’s management style.
- Gareth learned to manage or some would say, master the media when employed as a TV Pundit. A skill that is paramount when the pressures seem insurmountable. Gareth appears calm, relaxed and thoughtful in front of the microphone. He is a good role model for his players when in front of the cameras and when presenting in front of a group.
Where to from here?
The fruits of the investment in the St Georges Park Academy should ripen before the 2020 Euros, where the semi finals and final will be played at Wembley. France, Croatia and Belgium joined England in the last four of the 2018 World Cup. These four teams and previous Cup winners, would all would be expected to improve their teams. Not to mention the pedigrees of Brazil, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland and Argentina, who all have big reputations to keep.
What would Gareth Southgate be well advised to do, to develop a competitive strategy to win the 2020 Euros?
Here are some obvious kickstarter ideas that you could add to, to develop our discussion:
- Develop a strategy to manage peak performance, sports science and emotional intelligence at tournaments.
- Give game time to as many young players in the squad as possible, prior to the 2020 tournament. Aim to ensure that the average age of the squad is less than 26.
- Spend more time together as a squad to work on tactics, game plans, belief, defending and dead ball kicks.
- Reward players for their individual and team improvements. Including their effort, results and their support for each other.
- Analyse football trends, scenarios and the competition – especially ways to counter competitor’s strengths and how to capitalise on their weaknesses.
- Develop tournament checklists on how to manage talent and logistics seamlessly, simply and clearly.
- Develop a culture where the squad and support team all feel free to share ideas, concerns and creativity.
What are your thoughts, that you would like to contribute towards a competitive strategy for England’s 2020 Euro competition?
Please submit your thoughts in the comments below.
Here are some links to ignite your thinking. Please add more valuable sources if you like.
| Gareth Southgate: From Hero to Zero by Rob Mason [ISBN: 978-1-782-81-8199]|| Tournament Strategy|
| Southgate profile|| 2018 Tactics|
| Criticism|| How France won on strategy|
| NBA tactics|| The England DNA|
| The FA Development Strategy|| £260 mill FA investment|
| Foundation strategy|| Players underused|
| Breaking new ground|| FA profile|
| Golden generation|| More criticism|
| Family First|| Mrs Southgate|