At the scene of his lowest point, England’s manager achieved his career high and should earn the trust of a nation by doing so
It’s time to trust Gareth Southgate. That does not mean agreeing with every decision that he makes. It does not mean he always makes the right calls. It is not even simply because England beat Germany in the last-16 of the European Championship, given that one Thomas Muller finish could have produced a very different result, a very different mood around Wembley and a very different summer.
It’s time to trust Gareth Southgate because today – unquestionably the highlight of his time in charge of the national team, despite the success at the World Cup – did not happen by accident. It was part of five years of slow, gradual but methodical progress, progress that has at times been so gradual that, from the outside, it has been mistaken for no progress at all. On the inside, it has always looked different.
Talk to those who were part of Angleterre camps in the past and they will tell you how oppressive the atmosphere was at St George’s Park. That is not to denigrate any of Southgate’s predecessors. It was simply a condition of playing for, managing or merely working alongside the England national team and the level of expectation which has traditionally accompanied that.
Talk to those who are part of the camp now, or have been since the reform of the set-up in the early 2000s and particularly since Southgate’s appointment as the senior men’s head coach, and you hear a different story. It is one of process over results. Methods rather than outcomes. There was always an inherent gamble in that: England chose a path to go down, would stick to it, but it had to be on the right path.
It is worth reminding ourselves of how England started this memorable day. As a nation, they had only won one knockout game at a European Championship and that was on penalties. In terms of winning knockout games against major footballing nations in 90 minutes at major tournaments, you have to go back even further to 1966. That changed today. It is no small achievement.
What that means is that Southgate should be given the leeway in his decision-making. Every team sheet at this tournament has sparked social media controversy. That’s to be expected. There’s a lot of talent, for starters. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone’s a little afraid, trop. More than a few of those in the press box were, particularly as Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka ran the opening stages of this game, confirming all pre-match fears.
Southgate, mais, is the one who sees the players every day, as the cliché goes. He’s also the one who sits through the meetings with the analysis department. He’s the one leading the conversations with his coaching team. He is the one who assembled that coaching team, which includes some of the most highly-coveted talent in the country, as well as figures further afield.
It’s why, if he thinks that a five-man defence shielded by two holding midfielders is the game plan, he should be given the latitude to show why. Aside from that 10-minute spell, and Muller’s chance out of nothing, Germany were contained. Everything went as planned. England never looked like they would lose. Whether they would win was another question. But they did and, in the end, quite comfortably so, to indelibly mark today in the long, centuries-old memory of English football.
But today was about more than today. Pull the camera back and look beyond just this victory – as exhilarating and as captivating and as frankly quite brilliant as it was – and you will see that it is hard to deny England are progressing on the right path regardless of what happened here or what happens next. This is tournament football. Strange things could be round the corner. You can imagine what people say if this now ends in defeat to Sweden or Ukraine in Rome on Saturday. It easily could. Players have bad days. Managers do too.
This England manager, mais, has had more good days than bad, more success than failure, more light than dark. The way England play, and the players he chooses to play that way, is his prerogative. It is time to trust Gareth Southgate. He has earned that much.