Gareth Southgate’s Thankless Task
You’d have thought that after achieving England’s first ever opening match victory in a Euros tournament, winning Group D without conceding a goal…and beating Germany, Gareth Southgate would be cut some slack by English fans. Of course, the England manager being kicked from pillar to post in the media during an international tournament is pretty much an English tradition – an unforgiving ritual that social media only intensifies.
Despite being one of only three England managers to reach to a World Cup semi-final, many English football fans have had it in for the ex-Villa captain, since the tournament started. The main criticism has been for not starting Jack Grealish, but considering he has been injured recently for three months, from MOMS point of view, drip feeding him into the team was to be expected.
There’s other very talented players in the England squad too, who have achieved big things in those three months Grealish has been out, yet Southgate has still been playing Grealish above them. He came on against Scotland, started against the Czechs, and was the impact sub against Germany. I’m sure Jadon Sancho would have liked the amount of time Grealish has had on the pitch during this Euros.
The claret and blue rabid nature of certain Grealish fanboys was clearly seen after the Czech game. Since Grealish had started the game, the new gripe now was with certain England players for apparently not passing to their idol. The fanboy Twitter paranoia is funny to watch – first Southgate was accused of having an ‘agenda’ against Grealish, now it’s Kane, Sterling and Maguire that have the agendas.
Against Germany, I thought all the players linked up nicely with Grealish to create the two goals.
Southgate’s core mission is finding a way to win this tournament. Ideally, England would be playing more open attacking football with their arsenal of attacking talent, it would win more hearts and minds, but ultimately it is potentially the path of gallant losers. We’ve seen it time and time before in history – the Dutch team of the 1970’s World Cups, Brazil of 1982 or England in the 1990’s, it all tends to end in tears.
This is a more measured, pragmatic and steely England team. A team that hopefully has another gear or two to use and a few cards still up its sleeve.
If they win the tournament ugly, I doubt anybody will be complaining.
From a Villa fan point of view, the backlash against Southgate is emotive and based on the obstinate viewpoint that “Grealish should be playing”.
While MOMS would love to see the Villa captain in action for every minute of England action, it’s no surprise to see Grealish being used more selectively. His shin condition is an on-going concern and needs to be managed, especially from a Villa point-of-view.
He’s also got stiff competition, which have to be respected, especially when you consider the likes of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount have been winning League titles and Champions Leagues while Grealish has been sidelined.
So far has Grealish is having an excellent tournament and if England are to win the whole thing, you’d expect him to contribute further to get them over the line.
Remember David Platt and the World Cup in 1990? Platt is synonymous as being a real national hero from that tournament, with his infamous extra-time injury-time winning volley against Belgium, which he followed with goals in the quarter-final and the 3/4 play-off.
Platt went into that tournament scoring 19 league goals for Villa from midfield (21 in total for the season), after only missing one game. He was a legitimate match-winner, that Villa fans knew would improve the national team. Still, we had to wait until the quarter-final for Platt’s actual first start in the tournament. His first appearance came as a substitute in the second game of the tournament, a 0-0 draw with the Dutch.
So Grealish has followed similar path in that respect, so fans shouldn’t get too riled up by it.
Southgate hasn’t got ‘an agenda’ against Grealish. The fact Southgate, a former Villa captain himself, was constantly at Villa games towards the backend of the season and the very fact he still picked Grealish in his squad, despite a three-month period out, suggests he was always very keen for the Villa captain to play a part and not just be squad filler.
Let’s not forgot, Grealish was expected back from his shin injury at least a month before he finally did return in the final week of the season. Another manager could have just drawn the line, and told Grealish to get fit properly and focus on the World Cup, as the Euros had come too soon for his injury.
The issue with Southgate is not whether he starts Grealish or not, but how he’ll actually utilises him when he’s on the pitch, an issue he’s having with all of England’s attacking talent.
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