Whether the Euro tournament trophy ends up at home or in Rome, one thing that is sure is, Gareth Southgate has done a great job with the Three Lions of England. They are 90 minutes or at most 130/140 minutes away from what could be their first ever European title. Coming off the back of a fourth place finish at the last World Cup, they seem to have banished the ghost of faltering at major tournaments. At the heart of this achievement is probably their most low-profile manager of the last two decades. After falling short with the likes of Sven Goran Erikson, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, uncelebrated Southgate is about to send English football fans into delirium, how has he gotten the Three Lions this far?
Merit in players selection
Southgate has departed from the previous norm of inviting and playing players based on their stature and that of their clubs. Gone are the days when playing for the big clubs guarantee places in the Three Lions. Southgate has selected the best and most in-form players without bias. A good example is Kalvin Phillips, who got an invitation to the team while still playing in the second division with Leeds and is a super regular in the team now. In time past, a player playing in the Championship wouldn’t have gotten an invite. The likes of Ben White of Brighton Hove and Albion, Connor Coady of Wolves are in the team, just to mention a few.
Players playing outside England like Kieran Trippier, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho have not been ignored. Just as young and budding talents like Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and others have been allowed to strut their stuff.
The selection is near perfect and the result is there for all to see.
Staying true to type
Just like his not so flamboyant persona, he has kept the team more efficient than flamboyant. Just two goals scored in the group stage with none conceded says it all. In all, they have conceded one goal in all, from set play. In spite of having some of England’s most stylish footballers of modern era in his ranks, he has kept the style largely ‘English’. Defensively strong and relying on pace and directness at the other end.
A double-pivot of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips at the base of the midfield is more of a defensive and cautious choice. He could have played only one of the aforementioned duo and deploy more of his exciting midfielders but he has resisted the urge. After what seemed like a struggle at the group stage, there were calls for changes but he has stayed true to his style and it is paying dividends.
Trusting his players
Based on form, coming into the tournament, the likes of Jordan Pickford and Raheem Sterling should not have been starters but they have proved doubters wrong. They were two of England’s best players at the last World Cup and Southgate trusted them to continue in that light and they have not let him down.
Captain Harry Kane struggled at the beginning of the tournament and he seemed out of place in the team. Southgate stuck with a player who won the Golden Boots at the last World Cup and last Premier League season and he has repaid the trust, he has four goals now, one shy of the leading topscorer.
As said earlier, even if football refuses to go home, there is enough for English fans to be excited about. Southgate has done a fantastic job with this team and luckily does not court controversies. With the World Cup less than two years away, the English can dream once again.
Written by Babatomiwa Ojo