IAN LADYMAN: Minefield lies ahead for Gareth Southgate

IAN LADYMAN: Minefield lies ahead for Gareth Southgate as he plots for England’s Euro 2020 campaign… he will need the co-operation of top flight clubs to have any chance of success

  • Gareth Southgate says the last 10 days were his most testing as England boss 
  • But it will not get much easier from here as preparation for Euro 2020 begins 
  • Southgate will need to rely on the co-operation of elite clubs to target success 
  • He is diplomatic enough to pick his way through the club versus country conflict

Gareth Southgate believes the last 10 days or so have been among the most difficult he has had to endure during his four years as England coach. The chances are it will not get much easier from here.

The complications of the Harry Maguire court case have only compounded the issues thrown up by Covid-19. Southgate has suffered three withdrawals from his squad in the build-up to this double-header against Iceland and Denmark and this at a time when the Premier League season has not even started yet.  

Challenges will come regularly for the England manager as he tries to plot a way from here to the doorstep of the delayed European Championship next June. If he is to have any chance at all of preparing a team to win the tournament he will in all likelihood need almost unprecedented co-operation from our top-flight clubs. 

Gareth Southgate says the last 10 days have been among his most testing in charge of England

The complications of the Harry Maguire court case have only compounded Southgate’s issues

Certainly there was an edge to what he said recently on the matter. ‘We are competing with the Portuguese, the French, the Spanish, the Italians, the Belgians, who always pick their strongest teams,’ said Southgate. ‘My job is to win games for my country and I’ve got to pick the strongest squads.’

Club versus country conflict is not new and Southgate is diplomatic enough to pick his way through the minefield without upsetting people any more than he needs to. 

The days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sven Goran Eriksson shouting at each other down the telephone over the availability of Wayne Rooney in 2006 are behind us. Still, the pressure on players and their club managers will be greater than ever this season and it is inevitable that it will impact on Southgate.

Southgate is certainly diplomatic enough to pick through the the club versus country conflict

The new campaign will begin a month later than planned and all that missed football will have to be crammed into the schedule. Add to that the fact that England – without a game for 10 months – have seven to play between now and the middle of November and the potential for trouble is clear. 

We can expect our big clubs to disregard the domestic cups this season and if they become reserve grade competitions for some that is unfortunate but understandable. For one year only.

Beyond that the only way club managers will be able to ease the load on players is to withdraw them from international duty. This will inevitably happen, even more than it does already, and Southgate is the one with the most to lose. 

The Three Lions manager has the most to lose should club bosses withdraw their players

Already he is anticipating matches behind closed doors and the challenges they bring. Wembley ceases to become an advantage if there is nobody there. Meanwhile, the pressure to do well at the Euros will not decrease.

So a manager who was initially given this posting on the back of sporting crisis – the sacking of Sam Allardyce after one game four years ago – heads into his most important year impacted by something much more serious.

Southgate is right to select his most important players every time he names a squad. Otherwise, what is the point? Whether he manages to get them all is another matter entirely.

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