Gareth Southgate moulding the way forward for England

While it wasn’t quite the result that the English were looking for, Germany seemed a tad stunned, or rather, rattled.

The game at Wembley did end 0-0, but it wasn’t a one that forced many Three Lions fans into thinking as to why in the world they support the side, a bit like what happened following the nation’s lacklustre 1-0 win over Lithuania about a month ago.

It was a one that saw England fans feel proud and feel that they aren’t as bad as they think. That in itself is rare.

Germany were, it would be fair to say, lucky to have drawn the outing, with English more deserved of winning the game than the Die Mannschaft.

If not for Jesse Lingard’s late miss, England would have had a result to be proud of. Albeit a friendly, Gareth Southgate’s men often looked like an assured unit who knew what to do and how to do it.

Skipper Eric Dier, who is possibly one of the most underrated Premier League players right now, dropped in as a centre-half whenever Harry Maguire took the opportunity to bomb forward to use his impeccable ball-playing abilities.

While this was a move that helped England nullify the German high-press, it suggested that something was different about the side.

The manner in which the ‘Three Lions’ played showed how possession football is to be played, that too against a side that is superior to them.

And it was a pleasure seeing an English side adhere to the possession brand of football so well.

And while it wasn’t as good as the Pep Guardiola side of 2011, but it was special in itself.

After all, it was after so many years that we saw an England side have an identity. And it didn’t seem like an attempt to copy the Germans, the Spaniards or the Italians, it seemed original.

And while it can be said that it was England’s second team that was playing, the players who performed the important roles are regulars, be it Eric Dier, Jamie Vardy or Harry Maguire.

The English sides of the past have had players who deserve to fall under the category of ‘legends’, but their impact in the international tournaments has been very limited.

England failed to qualify for the Euros in 2008, despite having players like Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard, John Terry, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand in the side.

And the performance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a disaster too, despite the presences of all the aforementioned players.

While the side in 2014 wasn’t as star-studded as the ones in the previous World Cups, the elimination in the group stages was a massive disappointment.

On the flip side, you have the successful sides of Italy, Spain and Germany, who all won the World Cups in sublime fashion and not just by playing well, but by often mesmerising the onlookers, especially Spain.

Vicente del Bosque took a page out of Pep Guardiola’s book to make them play in the then Barcelona manager’s eye-pleasing style that lifted people off their seats.

That Spanish side was filled to the brim with superstars, with players who played for either the Catalans or for Real Madrid, but they still won the World Cup and not just that, they won the hearts of the fans too.

And over so many years, the English have dreamt of coming up with a style that is as impressive as those of the Spanish or the Germans, or as pragmatic as the catenaccio of the Italians.

The lack of it has been deemed as one of the reasons for the failure of the English national side in the big international tournaments.

Not just that, but how the approach to international football gives a rather unorganized look to the other sides, largely due to the unavoidable hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

There’s no certainty about how things go, not just in terms of style of play, but also in terms of selection policy.

Or rather, that’s efficiently an overview of what the managers preceding Southgate did in a rather haphazard manner.

What the former Middlesbrough boss has brought in is a breath of fresh air.

There have been dull moments here and there, but signs have been far more promising than how things were under predecessors Roy Hodgson or Fabio Capello.

It gives the impression of being an attempt to emerge out of the carcass and strive to do something new.

And while it may not be entirely evident, Southgate has brought about a change in how things go about for the national team.

The fact that the former England international called up the duo of Lewis Cook and Dominic Solanke to the senior side before England played Brazil shows how fearless Southgate is and how much confidence he has in his abilities.

The manner in which England played boldly with a clear second-fiddle side against Joachim Low’s men is another indication of how much Southgate believes in himself and in his players.

That boldness has hardly been seen in an England boss for quite sometime now.

When Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was left out of the games against Germany and Brazil, it did raise eyebrows.

But Southgate displayed admirable boldness in being open about conveying the fact that Smalling’s inability to act as a ball playing defender made him not select him.

It wasn’t just the manner of leaving Smalling out that was impressive, but the reason given for it was something new.

Few England managers would have sacrificed an important player for the sake of a proper system.

It isn’t as if Southgate’s plan to build from the back didn’t work. Maguire did impeccably well in doing the job of carrying the ball out from the back and circulating it forward.

And Southgate’s impressive knowledge of the lesser known players in England doesn’t come from random scouting, it comes from his background.

His stint at the U21’s England side has gone a long way in helping him innovate every time he makes a selection for the national side.

That is very unlike how selections were made before he took charge of affairs following Sam Allardyce’s controversial sacking.

The goalless draw against Brazil meant England hadn’t conceded once in games against the top two teams in the world. That too by playing a three at the back, when the English have often accused of being too traditionalistic.

He has been quick to accept and innovate, as the other top sides have always looked tactically flexible. Managers from the past have never really dared to change from a traditional four at the back to something new.

In Southgate, England have someone who dares and believes in everything he does. If that isn’t something the English fans must be happy with, then there’s little that can make them happy.

It has become as escape route from the frustration of the times gone by and an attempt to obscure all of it. Whether England reach the latter stages of the World Cup or not, they must know that they are on the right track.

The Author

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game's not about life and death, it's something much more than that.

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