The quest for a new England manager seems to be never ending. Controversy and the confusion over whether an Englishman is the only answer has left the Football Association dithering around the future of the management of the national team.
Gareth Southgate is the favourite. Whispers suggest he is close to getting the job on a permanent basis. Having managed just Middlesbrough and the England under-21 side previously, this is causing – and will cause – uproar. A desire for England to somehow appoint someone far above the status of England manager continues, a reflection of the misconceptions present about the stature of the English game.
National management is different from club management, and increasingly more so. It is almost unrecognisable from managing a club in the modern game and there are a growing number of managers who are sticking with national management, in the same way that many bosses would not bother leaving the confines of club football.
Football management is a cut-throat business. Clubs and football associations do not give prolonged periods to sort teams into the way a manager may want, which makes Joachim Low’s achievement as Germany manager all the more impressive. Winning a World Cup along the way, the Germany manager has overseen the rebuilding of German football from his position as assistant manager from 2004-06 and as manager from 2006 until the present day. His tenure has developed some of the world’s finest players, as Low has made bold decisions on selection throughout.
Semi-final exits at the Euros in 2016 and 2012 and the 2010 World Cup, a final defeat to Spain in the 2008 Euros and a World Cup win in 2014 make Joachim Low one of the best managers in international history. His longevity is a reward for the changes he made when he succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006 and, should all go to plan, he will lead his country for the 2018 World Cup, too.
Before his time as part of the Germany setup, Low had not inspired as a club manager. Short spells at numerous clubs did little for Low’s reputation and his eventual position as Germany’s national team manager was a surprise in many ways.
Although appointing Southgate would no longer be a shock for England, the similarities with Low are hard to ignore. An understanding of the system he will be working with as England manager, an unrivalled knowledge of the youth talents that could force their way into the senior squad and a reputation that gives him little to lose make Southgate a strong candidate for the job.
England managers are frequently criticised for being too safe. Refusing to make the sort of controversial decisions that have made Low so successful to this point in his career. Southgate is unlikely to dive straight in with reforming the setup and the team, but he is not taking this challenge on with the risk of losing a worldwide reputation. He is a modest, thoughtful, bright man, untarnished by his own motives or career goals. Like Low, he can approach the England job as his opportunity to prove himself, rather than with the risk of losing all the respect he has built up through his career.
The future of the England team must take inspiration from Germany’s revival. The Germans were dissatisfied with group stage exits at the 2000 and 2004 European Championships, along with quarter-final departures from the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Sound familiar? England have a long, long way to travel if they are to even come within a lightyear of the current German team, but it is not the impossible challenge that it may seem.
Reinvention of the English footballing system is required. Training of coaches and a change in culture are out of any manager’s control, unfortunately. What a manager can do, though, is show the nation how football will be played by the national team. Patience will be required, it may take years for the turnaround to fully influence on-field results. Southgate is unafraid of change, unafraid of playing a different style of football and has knowledge of the immensely talented young players that are the future of the English team.
Roy Hodgson started some of the necessary adaptations in approach with the England team, he could be seen to have played a pivotal role – just as Klinsmann did for Germany.
Club managers are a different breed to national managers now. Southgate has international experience, understanding of the system and, to put it mildly, England are not blessed with a selection of willing candidates. Assurances must be given to whoever is appointed to guide the England team to allow them to truly reinvent the way that the team is managed.
Southgate might not have the credentials at club level, or even the experience, but there is no reason he cannot be the man to change the national team. Without the shackles of expectation, Southgate could be the beneficiary of a severe lack of interest in the England job.