When a naive, inexperienced Gareth Southgate said he would pick England squads on form instead of reputation, he made a rod for the back of his entire reign.
The football landscape was almost unrecognisable when Gareth Southgate meticulously constructed the rod which has sat uncomfortably between his shoulder blades ever since.
“I never pick on reputation – form has to come into it,” he told the Daily Telegraph in an exclusive interview, his first as permanent England manager, wisely currying favour with the outlet which orchestrated his predecessor’s downfall.
More than six years later, it remains the quote most often cited by Southgate’s detractors whenever the club season is interrupted, international football clumsily reconvenes and everyone forces themselves to pretend to care about England outside of a major tournament setting.
The names change every time – a point the irony of which the disparagers will never recognise – but the criticism is as consistent as it is dense. ‘Where’s [insert player doing well currently]?’ they seethe. ‘Thought Gareth was picking players on form?’ they pontificate with three chin-scratching emojis. The constant thirst for a gotcha moment is tiresome (says the website which publishes Mediawatch).
In March 2023 it is Ollie Watkins, Lewis Dunk and Solly March. In November 2022 it was James Ward-Prowse and Ivan Toney. That March it was Eric Dier, Dan Burn and Tyrick Mitchell. The previous November it was Emile Smith Rowe and Benjamin White. And it is always Fikayo sodding Tomori.
Don’t understand why Tomori and Lewis Dunk don’t get calls if it’s about form
— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) March 16, 2023
They are all heirs to the Grant Holt throne. They are the flavours of the month whose omissions leave a sour taste. They are phenomenal footballers but ones not picked at that stage, if indeed at all, for a variety of reasons.
This England pool is not one Southgate dips his toe into every three months like the rest of us. He does not compose his squad by watching those rare editions of Match of the Day with all the goals in while jotting down the names of the first 20 or so Englishmen he sees before nipping out for a quick pint. It is his job to pore over these selections; to constantly monitor a vast array of options; to identify those who do or do not suit his preferred system or style; to gauge the suitability of certain characters in a camp or dressing room; to judge over months and…
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