England’s UEFA Nations League campaign came to a close on Monday night and to say the Three Lions were disappointing would be an understatement. Gareth Southgate’s side confirmed relegation without a single win, losing three games — including humbling defeats home and away against Hungary — and drawing the other three. As such, they now have to live with an embarrassing relegation to League B, meaning that fixtures against the likes of Kazakhstan and Georgia are now on the horizon, rather than tussles with heavyweights such as Germany and Italy.
The performance of last year’s European Championships runner-up has raised eyebrows across the continent, with many England fans pointing the finger directly at Southgate. Many had already felt that the former Middlesbrough manager was on borrowed time, following his team surrendering 1-0 leads in the semifinal of the World Cup against Croatia four years ago and the Euro 2020 final against Italy. Fans have been clamouring for Southgate to utilise his attacking options rather than resorting to a more conservative style of play. The likes of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, and Jude Bellingham are all coming of age, and many feel that the national team should be playing to their strengths.
Southgate may argue, however, that when his team pushes and attacks, they find themselves in trouble. England were uncharacteristically forward-minded on Monday evening and they were punished for it, falling two goals behind at home to Germany at Wembley. The Three Lions roared back though, and three goals in 12 minutes from Luke Shaw, Mason Mount, and Harry Kane gave the hosts a shock 3-2 lead. It would last just four minutes however when a howler from Newcastle United goalkeeper Nick Pope allowed Kai Havertz to equalise with his second of the night. England will settle for a point and the performance — despite shipping three goals — was without a doubt the best of their Nations League campaign.
The England faithful have been demanding Southgate’s head for some time now, and despite their impressive comeback at Wembley, that will still be the case in the coming weeks. But would it be wise to change managers barely two months out from the biggest competition in the sport, the FIFA World Cup? And if the English FA were to relieve Southgate of his duties, who would they be able to bring in? Would the new man be able to get his ideas across in barely two months and with no friendly matches ahead of England’s curtain raiser against Iran on 21st November? It’s highly unlikely.
Luckily for Southgate, the powers that be seem to have faith in him and don’t appear ready to pull the trigger on dispatching him just yet. He has built a togetherness in the squad that hasn’t been seen for a generation and as such, The Three Lions head to Qatar as one of the favourites for the tournament. Should they be crowned champions, it would be their first major international trophy in 56 years.
In years gone by, many pundits have suggested that England have struggled at major tournaments due to the huge demands of the Premier League and domestic cup competitions. This season will be no different on that front, with players expected to play in a huge amount of matches thanks to the World Cup being held in the middle of the European season, rather than its usual slot in June and July.
But one thing that will differ, is that it’s not just England who will be struggling to cope with the demands of the modern footballing schedule, every other nation whose star men ply their trade in Europe ware in the same boat. This levels the playing field and can surely only be seen as a positive for Southgate’s men. Are they still justified favourites to win the World Cup? Hopefully they’ll prove their doubters wrong in December.