Three Lions under Southgate : A new dawn
Written by: K.Koushik Venkatesh
England have been one of the most exciting sides to watch in the ongoing FIFA World Cup.
The English side thwarted World Cup debutants Panama 6-1 on Sunday in the second round of group fixtures. The win saw England enter the Round of 16 with ease after putting eight goals past Tunisia and Panama.
There was something very peculiar about these games though. The England that we as audiences were accustomed to, were nowhere close to what we were actually watching. Exciting football, playing out from the back, keeping the ball on the ground were just some of the standout features that popped out about this new look England squad.
Gareth Southgate knew the task he had at hand. England, on the international stage, were professional bottlers. No matter what people say about Rooney, Ferdinand, Beckham, Lampard, and Gerrard they bottled it on the world’s biggest stage and whenever it mattered the most. The 'Golden Generation' had left a tainted legacy and Southgate was appointed to help clean up this mess.
Southgate has been given the responsibility of taking this new generation of English stars to Russia and making something memorable out of this World Cup. It all started when Sam Allardyce was kicked out of the job for being involved in a scandal. Surprises, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the former England U-21 manager. Southgate was picked to be caretaker and was eventually handed the job.
When he was appointed, England had one of the worst records in international football. A team with quality and talent like England has had in the past two decades or so, had won only three knockout games at major tournaments in the last 25 years.
England scored six goals against Panama, the most in this FIFA World Cup so far
He had a lot of critics throughout the Qualifiers but as a manager, satisfying everyone is a job as tough as winning any trophy with this side. One of the biggest experiments that worked out for Southgate was switching to a three at the back. He did this towards the end of the Qualifiers when England’s spot in the World Cup was more or less confirmed. This was the perfect formula. The SHAPE gave the side a lot of passing options and it was also a great base for them to start building their attack on.
Potential is the word that comes to everyone’s mind when you show them this 23-man squad that Southgate has picked. Right from the first matchday, England have shown no sign of loosening up and have stamped their foot down against both Tunisia and Panama. What exactly has Southgate inbibed in this group that had been lacking in England’s previou generations?
Things that didn’t matter much 15 years ago in football, are now surfacing as the game is being micro-managed at so many levels, it is important to note that anything and everything that goes on with the team, has an impact on the performance on the pitch.
The player-manager relationship has been a huge contributing factor to this side’s performances so far. Right from Kevin Keegan to Roy Hodgson, the bond between the players and the manager was not stressed upon because of the God-like image that had been created by the English media around these players playing in the Premier League.
In that respect, Southgate is a breath of fresh air for this English setup and his ideologies coincide with the ones that the players play with at club level. Couple that with his level of understanding of the players and there is a strong level of mutual respect that runs through the camp, which has largely benefitted him in getting his ideas through to the players easily.
This was something missing at Euros 2016 as Hodgson never really understood what the strengths of his side were and nobody could take him seriously after he put Harry Kane, his #9 on corner-taking duties.
Southgate understands that there is a lack of creativity in this side when the ball is still in the run of play. England have looked the most dangerous in dead-ball situations as was witnessed in the two games against Tunisia and Panama, who are extremely physical sides.
Southgate has pulled off a great job in identifying this apparent threat that England possess and has made them really potent at it. The Three Lions had 18 shots in the game against Tunisia and 13 of those came from set-pieces. The squad now has an identity that it previously lacked under almost all managers from the early 2000s.
Another important quality that this England side has is their camaraderie. Rio Ferdinand in an interview came out with some stinging facts about what went wrong with England’s Golden Generation.
"Club rivalries? It killed that England Golden Generation. I never walked into the England dressing room and opened up to Lampard, Cole, and Terry at Chelsea or Gerrard annd Carragher at Liverpool in case they'd take something back & use it against us at club level".
This is something that’s been completely eradicated from this camp. The kind of companionship that these players share is something that’s new to the English side and when you’re a happy unit, you want to achieve great things together and more importantly, you want to win together.
Southgate has instilled a level of togetherness in this camp and it seems to be rubbing off on the team’s performances on the pitch. There are no big egos in the side, there are no god-like figures in the team, everyone’s the same and they’re all young boys who are living their childhood dream of representing their nation at the World Cup.
John Stones looks a different player under Gareth Southgate
Harry Kane, the captain of the Three Lions has had questions raised regarding his selection as the leader, but he has proved his doubters wrong, as the 24-year-old seems to be scoring at will and is leading the team with such inspiring performances. The striker currently leads the Golden Boot race with five goals and he is only five goals short off Gary Lineker who holds the record for the most number of goals scored in the World Cup for England (10).
The Spurs man is in impeccable form for England and under Southgate as he’s scored 13 goals in nine games and 11 goals in seven games as a captain. He has shown that he is an able leader on the pitch and his motivated performance rubs off on his teammates the right way.
Southgate has picked an ambitious project and the FA have put all their faith in the 47-year-old. This is just the start of a long road ahead for Southgate and the Three Lions. The gaffer is slowly and steadily instilling a DNA into this side and giving them an identity that is not route-one football.
Southgate has made watching England play, enjoyable. This is a long project for the manager and anything better than an upsetting exit from the tournament will be considered an upgrade from their showing at Euro 2016.
Published: Tue Jun 26, 2018 06:59 PM IST