Gareth Southgate’s decision to stay on as England manager will be cause for relief and celebration within the Football Association after serious doubts hang over his post-World Cup future.
The relief will come as there appeared to be no firm succession plan had the 52-year-old decided to step down after England’s quarter-final elimination against France in Qatar.
And the celebration will be because the FA have always believed Southgate is the manager to advance England to Euro 2024 in Germany, regardless of the World Cup outcome.
There was a real possibility Southgate would rescind his tenure after admitting he was “conflicted” over whether to continue the job he took on permanently in November 2016.
Southgate feared his continued presence would have a negative impact on England’s future. He was also appalled by the criticism he received when England struggled in their UEFA Nations League campaign last summer – although few managers could have seriously expected to escape the sting. examination and questioning after the embarrassment of the 4-0 defeat against Hungary at Molineux.
By contrast, the response to both Southgate’s management and England’s performance here in Qatar has been largely positive despite falling a round earlier than in 2018 when they lost to Croatia in semi-final of the World Cup in Moscow.
This, and the emergence of an exciting group of young players which Southgate is educating with its established and trusted stars, convinced him to stay on as England manager.
He has the backing of England players, who have urged him to continue, and FA chief executive Mark Bullingham released a statement saying the organization was “incredibly proud” of Southgate, the team, the coaches and support staff, although the final eight were the limited extent. of their campaign.
Southgate’s in-game management has been called into question once again after their loss to France, namely the introduction of Raheem Sterling – whose World Cup had been disrupted by returning to the UK after a break-in in his family home – as a replacement for England’s top player Bukayo Saka. , with 12 minutes to go after falling behind for the second time. Jack Grealish was also only introduced after 98 minutes with barely a chance to make an impression.
In reality, however, it was a game of moments and fine margins, like Captain Harry Kane’s unusual late miss. England’s approach and game plan was more positive than in previous defeats, which looked like a half-hearted side and a conservative manager unable to cross the line.
This was not the case here.
England, although they have once again failed against elite opposition as they did against Croatia in 2018, and in the Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley, is actually in much better shape for the present and the future than she was after those painful losses.
Southgate have been excited about the future with the integration of 19-year-old Jude Bellingham alongside Saka (21), Phil Foden (22) and Declan Rice (23), who have all been outstanding at different stages in Qatar.
And with Euro 2024 just 18 months away, Southgate will almost certainly have the likes of captain Kane, John Stones and Jordan Pickford still available while others are sure to make their claims.
He may have to look to replace older statesmen such as Jordan Henderson and Kieran Trippier, 32 – while 29-year-old Harry Maguire hopes his strong performances in Qatar will restore him to Manchester United – but these exceptional personalities not give way to newcomers without a fight.
For Southgate, his options were to stay on as England manager, take a break or return to managing the club with his high stock.
Southgate has appeared invigorated of late after cutting, by his own positive standards, a world-weary figure during last summer’s struggles when England lost home and away to Hungary.
And while his stock might be high, would Southgate really have been a serious target for elite clubs to satisfy his ambition after operating in the thin air of international management for so long?
The FA will be delighted to have Southgate stay on as England manager, as the hope within the organization was always that he would serve every second of the contract he signed to see him through to December 2024.
And that very obviously spares the FA the task of finding a successor, the natural path ahead seems to be blocked by England’s first candidate Eddie Howe overseeing the rebuilding of Newcastle United under their Saudi owners and Graham Potter now at Chelsea after being lured. of Brighton by new owner at Stamford Bridge, Todd Boehly.
Potter’s Chelsea predecessor and Champions League winner Thomas Tuchel and former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino have also been mentioned in the mix, but the lobby that insists England must be led by an Englishman would have opposed such an appointment. It wouldn’t have reflected well the St. George’s Park production line and all the talk of an “English DNA” if a perceived “outsider” had been named.
Southgate’s right-hand man, Steve Holland, was also mentioned, but he has no managerial experience at this level and prefers to work out of the spotlight. He can now do that alongside Southgate, as he has successfully done for so long.
And the FA will have Southgate, who they have always seen as the perfect man for the job of England manager, at the helm.
Southgate will therefore continue in a fourth major tournament, starting by testing the qualifiers in Italy at Naples and against Ukraine at Wembley in March.
He has the players to be confident he can better a record of a World Cup semi-final, a Euro 2020 final and a World Cup quarter-final.
Southgate has made up its mind to stay. He must now prove he can be the fourth-time winner England want rather than tell the same story of bad luck from his previous three tournaments in charge.