Show Some Balls And Stand By Southgate

I’ve written at length about my belief that Gareth Southgate should be given the England manager’s job full time.

And as I watched the team win at Wembley on Friday, I was convinced more than ever that now is the right time, for a number of reasons, to give my former Crystal Palace and Aston Villa team mate the job on a permanent basis.

He is a clever, witty, engaging man with a wealth of experience in the game and I should know. I’ve seen him as a rookie at Palace, making his debut at Anfield on the same day I made my away league debut. He handled it with the calm that has been the epitome of the professional we see before us now.

I saw him captain Aston Villa at a tough time in the 90s, where a team expected to challenge for the title instead went on a horror run at the start.

But he showed leadership, plenty of balls and feistiness in digging out one or two, me included.

So don’t think for a minute that this guy is a yes man or a shrinking violet, he most certainly isn’t.

At Boro, again as captain, he brought the club silverware and as a manager he tasted the tangible disappointment of relegation which I’m sure has moulded him as a real grafter who wants to make himself a better coach, manager and deal with players and people better. Everything you’d want from a leader; acknowledging mistakes, acting on them and improving.

Yes Man?
Even at the FA in his first role several years ago, he walked away in double quick time due to the bureaucracy of the organisation rather than take the easy option and become an ‘FA man’ with a job almost guaranteed for life if he kept his mouth shut, head down and got on with it. He didn’t, he walked away.

If all of these traits were shown by a Spaniard at the Spanish FA, a German at the German FA or an Italian at the Italian FA, they would be lauded as being visionary, anti-establishment and someone to watch for the future. But we are the world’s worst at slating our own, I should know, and the journey he’s been on to make himself a better coach, watching games, clubs and how they are run across the world is only to be admired.

Against Scotland at times England weren’t great. However…

…At times there were tantalising glimpses of players playing with confidence.

They were playing to a plan and a dedication to playing from the back, which although may cost us against the very best is a departure from the crash bang wallop and lack of direction from recent England managers.

In other words, players were asked to do what they do for their clubs, to express themselves and most importantly enjoy being a part of this set up. The Olés at the end of the game surely demonstrated this as England had won the right to play, kept a clean sheet and broke their opponents’ spirit and will.

Thrown To The Wolves
It’s not perfect, nor will it be for quite some time, but as a nation we need to decide what we want. An Englishmen who’s young, motivated and proud, who’s “done the knowledge” with the U-21s and who will learn a lot on his journey? Or, at the first loss or poor performance, slag him off, say he hasn’t got the experience and throw him to the wolves?

Then we go through the famous cycle of weak FA leadership which goes for a celebrity manager, here to top up a pension, to add a few more million to the Picasso picture fund and is off managing the UAE 2 years down the line.

What message does that say to young English managers who are aching for an opportunity to shine and most importantly be supported by all of us as fans, broadcasters, media and journalists. We MUST embrace our own change and that’s to look to St George’s Park , OUR football home to churn out coaches and managers, to support them with the aim of having not only competent England managers but also club managers too.

Too long and too often we are the world’s worst at looking elsewhere for the best.

But it’s more than reasonable to believe that we have plenty of talent here. Gareth Southgate took on a big job at Boro for example while Pep Guardiola was allowed to coach under the radar at Barca B. One job had real consequences for failure, one didn’t.

I hope he takes the job, embraces it and also has alongside him a younger, fresher coaching network which can grow together as England aim to get to Russia. We don’t have the best players on the planet but a team who could and maybe should be at least aiming for the latter stages of a tournament. Especially with the burgeoning talent from Spurs, Liverpool and Man United.

Thick And Thin
If the manager gets the logistical back up and the support from the terraces and if the media think before writing destructive headlines about the ‘Yes Man’, then we may just get what we wish for. An Englishman, who has proven emotional intelligence, who has proven leadership skills, who has a playing CV to back up his credibility and to my knowledge has done everything since his Boro job to roll his sleeves up, do plenty of learning so when the call came, he would have the tools to do the job.

England was at rock bottom after the Iceland debacle and there will be plenty more twists and turns as the national team finds its confidence to go together with its undoubted ability.

I honestly, honestly think we should support Gareth Southgate at every turn because if he succeeds, there will be a rash of English coaches emboldened to join the party. Or we can go for a 60 year old international manager in 2 years who’s there for the money.

FA, it’s up to you. Show some balls and stand by this man, through the thick and the thin.