GoPlay looks at the blockages England coach Gareth Southgate will have to overcome if he is to take England to the next level…
Gareth Southgate’s England were one of the surprise packages of the World Cup, but returned to Birmingham airport to little fanfare.
England were 22 minutes away from their first World Cup final since 1966, before Ivan Perisic equalised and Luka Modric took control. It was much more than the nation had envisaged; a young team – the youngest at the 24-team tournament were only supposed to get to the quarter-finals at the very best. But after cruising through the group and seeing off Colombia and Sweden the hopes of a nation were raised.
The Three Lions restored pride in the national team and Southgate has instilled a belief that England can be great again. But no way will England’s revival go to the head of Southgate, the muted, low-key homecoming shows that. It could have been exactly the opposite, but Southgate played it right.
There were no jubilant scenes in arrivals or photo opportunities, because Southgate is well aware that there is a long way to go before England can be seen shouting from the rooftops.
“We were 20 minutes from a World Cup final. That is going to live with me forever, there is no doubt about that.
“I’m conscious I’ve got to raise everybody but I was up watching the game at 4am on Friday,” said Southgate.
“When I was a player I had a very simplistic mindset — I was good when we won, but if we lost I was an idiot.
“There was nothing in between and bizarrely I felt the need to punish myself for that.
“I’m a lot more rational now, I can see what we have achieved. But when you are so close you look back at what we might have done.”
After a de-brief at St George’s Park, Southgate will be heading off on holiday – thinking about his September games against Spain and Switzerland – and how to develop his young team to the next level.
The general consensus is that to do that England need to find a couple of midfield players and a No.10 who can create on the international stage. Southgate needs to find his own Modric – a player who is comfortable taking the ball under pressure, dribbling past opponents and killing off world-class teams with precision passing.
And he will no doubt have been looking forward to seeing how the likes of Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Ryan Sessegnon and Ademola Lookman would have got on at the U19 European Championships.
The knockout tournament gets underway this week, but none of the names above will participate because UEFA’s scheduling of the competition is outside a FIFA window. UEFA’s short-termism is astounding – arranging an international tournament where all of Europe’s young prospects should be present – during a key time for clubs.
England will have as many as 10 young players missing – all on pre-season with their respective clubs and none will feature for Paul Simpson’s side in Finland – which incidentally started with a 3-2 win over Turkey on Tuesday.
Southgate has been silent, but FA technical director Dan Ashworth has taken a swipe at UEFA’s organisation.
“This tournament is scheduled outside a Fifa window, which forces clubs to make such difficult decisions,” said Ashworth.
“We understand the dilemmas the clubs face around release of players during this particular time of the season and it’s our view, and that of several other countries, that Uefa should take this into account when scheduling tournaments of this magnitude.
“We all want our teams to be facing the best players in the world to really provide the greatest developmental impact,” he said.
“That said, I am confident in the players that we have at this tournament and it gives them all a brilliant opportunity.”
Southgate though has been denied the chance to see the likes of Foden – a player who is being schooled to become David Silva’s replacement at Man City – take part in an international knockout tournament.
Foden, 18, scored twice in the U17 World Cup final last October as England thrashed Spain 5-2 in India. He had a taste of action with the Premier League champions last season and Southgate is understood to be keen to develop Foden into a player who can make an impact at the senior European Championships in two years’ time.
It’s a road block that must have Southgate secretly fuming. He is well aware that his talented youngsters already face a tough time getting game time in the Premier League such is the talent that is drafted in from all over the world.
Former England coach and Man Utd full-back Gary Neville told ITV’s World Cup podcast: “If you are a 21-year-old you have not broken through to the first team you move.
“Twenty five years ago they used to say: ‘If you’re good enough you will get in the team.’ I don’t believe that any more because there are blockages along the way. Eventually you might get there.
“We’ve got to get these lads football, and if we don’t we’re not looking after them.
“By 20 you have to have played 100 to 120 senior games.”
To see Foden and winger Sancho et al would have been a great indicator for Southgate and may well have helped him decide whether any of Simpson’s starlets were ready to get a go for the seniors in the newly-introduced UEFA Nations League.
As Southgate points out “the experiences of the wins and the defeats that we’ve had will make us a better team” – but a whole bunch of England’s most thought of will miss out on that in Finland.
But England and many other European powers will have to develop their players in spite of UEFA’s actions, when surely the European body should be working hand-in-hand with FIFA to schedule tournaments more carefully to give young players the best chance to become the world’s best.