Gareth Southgate, like a stressed out parent, has done his best to handle the problems thrown at him after off the field issues left his preparations for Iceland and Denmark games in tatters
- Gareth Southgate has been tested by off-the-field issues in recent weeks
- The England manager’s planning for the last two games were left in tatters
- Southgate is doing his best not to be too hard or soft with his England squad
In the immediate aftermath of sending home Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood in disgrace on Monday, Gareth Southgate made an uncharacteristic mistake, referring to his own young kids when in fact his children are in their late teens.
This may have been a Freudian slip from the England manager, revealing something about how he views the other young adults in his care.
The well-remunerated job as England’s footballing leader has always comprised a multitude of roles — manager, coach, diplomat, statesman.
Off-the-field issues left Gareth Southgate’s England preparations in tatters the last few weeks
Southgate was shocked following Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood’s antics in Reykjavik
Gareth Southgate has also had to contend with the issues surrounding Harry Maguire
But in the last few weeks, even such a multi-faceted individual as Southgate has been tested.
The 50-year-old has had to grapple with the intricacies of the Greek legal system, help to construct a biosecure bubble across three countries and then react when it was breached by two players seeking late-night thrills, leaving much of his planning for a crucial game in tatters.
Over a lifetime in football as player, coach, broadcaster, youth director and — for the last four years — England manager, Southgate has seen everything.
But even he was shocked when told about Foden and Greenwood’s antics in Reykjavik.
It is to his credit that in several public appearances he has not let his feelings show, limiting himself to making it clear the players had let him and their team-mates down, without hanging them out to dry.
In a congested season that culminates in the European Championship, Southgate may need his young offenders before long, so has sensibly taken steps to preserve his relationship with them. Foden, in particular, was missed on Tuesday night in a game he would have started, with England lacking his quality on the ball in central midfield, where Declan Rice and debutant Kalvin Phillips offered endeavour without enterprise.
Southgate has greater attacking riches at his disposal on the flanks, but in half a season at Manchester United, Greenwood has looked like a once-in-a-generation talent, and could easily gate-crash England’s Euros squad.
England failed to find their rhythm during their games away against Iceland and then Denmark
The one certainty is that Southgate alone will dictate the timing of their return. In the frantic talks that followed Harry Maguire’s arrest in Mykonos last month, Southgate made it clear he wanted the United man in his squad for these matches and was granted his wish, until the guilty verdict from a courtroom in Syros made that position untenable.
Whether Southgate was right to place so much faith in Maguire is less relevant than the fact the FA backed his judgment, and they will do so again in this instance.
Debates over whether Southgate is too hard or too soft on his players overlook the fact he has done his best to be neither, instead judging each case on its merits.
Wayne Rooney was slipping down the pecking order before a drinking binge in the team hotel hastened his demise, while Raheem Sterling’s punishment for grappling with Joe Gomez was always going to be a one-off.
For all the talk about Southgate re-inventing the culture of the team, he is a pragmatist doing his best to tackle the problems thrown at him — just like most stressed-out parents.