Interim England coach Gareth Southgate is the latest subject of Manager Files as we take a look at the tactics, mannerisms, demeanour and touchline antics of the game’s top bosses.
Not everyone agreed with his team selection but few could argue that Mr Southgate scrubbed up rather well for his big day at Wembley. He looked resplendent in a three piece indigo blue suit and while the performance of his players was underwhelming, his match day rig out was anything but.
He also discarded the clean shaven look for some seriously decent stubble.
Marcus Rashford was a surprise omission from the starting line-up despite bagging a hat-trick for England Under-21s, under Southgate, against Norway last time out. The boss instead decided to pick Daniel Sturridge ahead of Rashford, as England tried to break down a Malta side who essentially had 10 men behind the ball and just wanted to lose with some grace.
In light of this Southgate refused to change the balance of the team, going with four defenders and a holding midfielder (Jordan Henderson) despite the fact that Joe Hart had just one save to make all game. In the event Henderson put in a Man of the Match shift, though a 2-0 win over European minnows posed at least as many questions as it answered.
His debut as interim manager suggests Southgate will bring stability to England and in the present climate that may not be a bad thing.
Southgate is no sergeant major type, and while there was no chest thumping or lung-busting rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ on his part he was fairly animated from the touchline area.
He celebrated Sturridge’s headed opener with an understated fist pump and wry smile, and was happy to bark instructions from the touchline as England looked to turn possession into goals. There will be far sterner tests ahead, but Southgate looked a man at ease in his new surroundings.
What they said
The man who stepped forward as England’s reluctant redeemer seemed pretty pleased with his team’s effort despite the fact that the entire second half was a rather frustrating affair. He was genuinely baffled though why some fans among the 81,781 at Wembley chose to boo record-scorer Wayne Rooney.
“I presented him with a cap in the week for being the record (outfield) cap holder with his country. It’s fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days. Every debate seems to focus on him.
“The onus on him is enormous. The criticism of him is, at times, unfair and he ploughs on and plays with pride and captains his country with pride.
“I don’t understand (the booing) but that seems to be the landscape. I have no idea how that is expected to help him, for sure.”
Just a few short days later of course Rooney would be demoted to the bench by Southgate for England’s clash in Slovenia, a decision the out-of-favour Manchester United player admitted he “understands and respects.”
Southgate has since handled the growing criticism of Rooney with a real steel and maturity to show that he at least has the right temperament to handle the job of England boss – even if the jury is still over his long-term chances of keeping it.
Southgate set his stall out before the Malta game by announcing that Rooney and Theo Walcott would both start. The decision it seems did not have the desired effect as Walcott was subbed in the second half following a fairly low key outing and Rooney ended up losing his place in the team altogether following another pedestrian outing in midfield.
It remains to be seen whether Rooney can force his way back into the reckoning and beat Peter Shilton’s record of 125 international caps.
He’s only the interim boss as things stand but Southgate is no bigger than 11/8 to become the next permanent England manager. Much will depend on how he leads his side in crunch tests against Slovenia and Scotland but as things stand he is the man the bookies fancy to replace Sam Allardyce long term.
For now, at least, he very much looks like the right man at the right time.
Interestingly the man who is second favourite for the England gig – Roberto Mancini – accepted an invitation to Wembley by the FA and watched England’s 2-0 cruise against the Maltese. Mancini is 5/1, with evergreen Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger just behind him in the betting at 6s.