Gareth Southgate's world-weary look briefly morphed into a knowing smile yesterday when he was asked whether all the hassle of been England manager
Gareth Southgate’s world-weary look briefly morphed into a knowing smile yesterday when he was asked whether all the hassle of been England manager was worth it. Just as with the Harry Maguire court case ahead of his latest squad announcement, the dim-witted dalliances of Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood had left Southgate to deal with a mess which had nothing to do with football. As the man with the mop, Southgate was soaking up the spillage as best he could but at present the dirty water just seems to keep on overflowing out of the bucket.
Four years in, the jaded janitor is finding out the hard way that the England job is the one that just keeps on giving. Giving trouble that is.
“I think that it is just unique,” said Southgate. “I watched managers when I was younger who were in the role. You recognise the attention, the pressure regarding football decisions and regarding team selection and squad selection and no performance ever being good enough and questions about absolutely everything that happens on the pitch and selection-wise.
“But I obviously didn’t have the insight to all the external issues that you have to deal with. You’re in a position where you’re answerable pretty directly to government, you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with the royal family, you happen to be a spokesman for the nation so it is completely unique.
“I’m as comfortable as you can be with that. That’s the task I took on and I knew that when I took the role which is why I was slightly reticent. You know that every decision is going to be questioned and you know that you’ll find yourself in numerous situations and whatever decision you take some people will agree with and some will disagree.
“You have to live with that. In this role of responsibility there are innumerable privileges. To manage your country, to lead your country and wear the Three Lions is an unbelievable honour. That comes with a lot of other difficulties and I’m prepared to accept that.”
In the past few months the detritus has included Covid breaches by Kyle Walker and Jack Grealish as well as the Maguire business in Mykanos and now double trouble with the rebellious adolescents in Reykjavik.
It is an uncomfortable thread leading to questions over whether the England manager is too soft on his charges.
Yesterday, careful to rope off incidents which happen away from the national squad from those which surface on his watch, Southgate stood his corner against those accusations.
“I think whenever there have been issues, whether it’s been as an under-21 coach or senior coach, I think we’ve been very strict and firm,” he said.
“I think we like to have a good relationship with the players, but the players that have worked with me for a long time know I’m not afraid to make tough calls so no, I don’t agree that is the case.”
Foden and Greenwood had to go for health reasons as much as disciplinary grounds after bursting the bio-secure bubble. What happens next with their England careers will be instructive.
The boys, as Southgate continually referred to them, are young adults still maturing in the ways of the world. Young adults, as Southgate observed, make mistakes and the pair will pay a heavy short-term price for this blunder both personally and professionally.
In the medium term they will undoubtedly be back. They are too good not to be. But trust is a lot easier to lose than to win back and Foden and Greenwood have, with one dumb decision, surrendered it.