Is it early days for Southgate as England manager?
Yes. 2018 iwas his first tournament and his job now looks secure till the next World Cup. He qualified comfortably using a strict formation designed to win set-plays. The Kane-Sterling-Alli-Lingard system uses athletes who are all better off the ball than on the ball. His trio can race into scoring positions and, in theory, play each other in. But they don’t have the skill to convert the chances the system creates.
But surely this system functioned well and won games?
We only beat Tunisia, Panama and Colombia.The 2018 Swedes are not as good as the Iceland team that beat England 2-1 in Euro 2016.
So England 2018 is a prototype, not a template for the next four years?
If this is a template. I’ll give up writing about England and stop talking about them. We now have to evolve quickly and improve the team by 30%.
How do we do that?
By using more skilful forwards and midfielders.We have a decent spine and the intelligent Eric Dier could anchor a very different style of play comfortably. John Stones had a good World Cup and Jason Pickford turned out to be one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament.
Having become popular, will Gareth Southgate now take more risks?
Definitely. He will not continue to rehearse a system that uses aggressive athletes to win set-pieces. Going forward, his England teams need more gears. They have to evolve and that process must start in September.
But where can he find players who are not one-dimensional?
In the 21s and below. He has some gifted kids. Southgate has already said that Ryan Sessegnon and Jadon Sanchez are part of his plans. And he didn’t say that yesterday, he said it in St Petersburg. Ryan Sessegnon is a touch player who can play the Ashley Cole role or as a left winger.
But Sessegnon is 18 and plays for Fulham!
Fulham play good football and won promotion. And Jadon Sanchez did well as a wide forward for Borussia Dortmund last season. The left-footed Phil Foden already does magical things that remind me of Hazard and De Bruyne. If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.