Don't listen to the detractors, an extension to Gareth Southgate's England contract would be a wise move
Gareth Southgate is on the brink of agreeing an extension to his contract with the FA that would see him remain as head coach of England’s men’s team until after Euro 2024.
This is a good thing. Publish article. Boy, this opinion column lark really is a breeze.
I jest, of course (about that being the sum total of my contributory views on the matter, I mean, not about Southgate deserving an extension to his current deal), so in the interests of satiating pesky word counts, allow me to ramble on a little more.
The 51-year-old is out of contract after next winter’s World Cup, but according to the Telegraph FA chiefs are looking to extend his time with the Three Lions by at least a couple more years. As a nice little bonus, Southgate would also see his salary increase to around £5 million plus bonuses per year, elevating him to a level not too far off the exorbitance showered upon everyone’s favourite Postman Pat doppelganger, Fabio Capello.
Steve Holland, Southgate’s faithful and ever-impressive right-hand man, could also be handed a new deal, with the FA willing to put their faith in the duo following this summer’s Euro 2020 exploits and the subsequent success of England’s World Cup qualification campaign.
Now, as with just about everything in the public eye, this is a looming move that looks set to divide opinion greatly.
A cursory search of the words “Southgate” and “contract” on Twitter already dredges up a veritable smorgasbord of hot takes and rash bemoanings. Accusations of tactical conservatism and unusually favourable major tournament draws papering over his foibles are sticking points that have pestered the England manager for much of his tenure, but judging by the indignant reactions of many on social media, you would be forgiving for thinking that Southgate actually spends his spare time creeping around in the dead of night personally stuffing potatoes up the exhaust pipes of anybody with even a casual interest in the fortunes of the national team like some sort of Vehicular Spud Bogeyman. Admittedly, it’s a shot in the dark, but I assume that is not actually the case.
Instead, the one-time Middlesbrough boss has helped to nurture a blossoming generation of exceptionally-gifted talent, guiding them to the cusp of silverware on two separate occasions – and he’s done it all with an infectious affability. Granted, being likeable won’t carve your name into the annals of history, but it’s refreshing to be represented on the international stage by such a patently intelligent, level-headed manager who speaks with such eloquence and conducts himself with such decorum.
Most importantly though, he’s getting results. We all know the harrowing stat – no major tournament final in 55 years prior to this summer’s crushing penalty shootout defeat against Italy – but sometimes looking at the issue of England’s archival shortcomings can draw the eye away from the muddle of their more recent pitfalls. Even up until Roy Hodgson’s time at the helm, the Three Lions were the footballing equivalent of that Sideshow Bob skit from The Simpsons, constantly stepping on rake after rake, smacking themselves in the face time after time as a consequence of their grumbling clumsiness.
Southgate has all but eliminated that perpetual anguish. Watching England is an engaging pursuit once more. Hell, at times it’s even fun. This is not a case of style over substance – this is style that has found a way to grind out successes and, for the most part, break habitual cycles of frustration.
As alluded to above, detractors will argue that the rub of the green has persistently favoured the Three Lions in recent tournaments. Late stage knockout clashes against the likes of Sweden and Denmark are hardly baptisms of fire, but as the old adage espouses, you can only beat what’s in front of you. Sometimes cliches are cliches for a reason.
And none of this is to say that Southgate is perfect. There are times when his moment-to-moment decision-making is questionable, and if England are to ever take that final step and lift a trophy under his tutelage, then they need to find a more consistent way of dispatching of their fellow international heavyweights.
Likewise, there are surely better, more egalitarian and beneficial ways that the FA could choose to spend an extra £2 million annually, especially in the wake of the pandemic and its tribulations. It’s not like there are a queue of suitors flashing their ankles in a bid to lure Southgate back to the glitz of club football either.
But if we’re to take the prospect of this proposed contract extension for what it is – an England manager being rewarded for a steady upwards trajectory with an assurance that he has the time and security to see his project through to its natural conclusion – then it can only be viewed as a positive, and just, thing.