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What a man, what a lot of defenders

OPINION: Gareth Southgate’s efforts as England boss – and his admirable stance on racism – means we are tiptoeing around his performance on the touchline

15 July, 2021 — By Richard Osley

KASPER Schmeichel got a green laser zapped in his eyes after questioning whether football had ever come home to England, so we must step carefully.

Everybody is so very proud – very, very proud – of the England football team after the European Championships that it’s difficult to broach the suggestion that football really should have made its way here.

It should be home, feet up, puffing away on a cigar and watching re-runs of Harry Kane’s trophy lift, rather than chugging back Aperols on the Italian Riviera right now.

And Sir Gareth Southgate’s statue should be sculpted already; a bronzed waistcoat depiction from the World Cup or a granite monument of the man in his normcore shacket of recent weeks, it would’ve been hard to choose.

Maybe he should get one anyway simply for his considered and courageous draft on racism, and society in general, before and after the tournament.

Not that it made any difference to the dunderheads who punctured all the happy vibes by booing other countries’ national anthems, laughing their way through renditions of Ten German Bombers, smashing up their own city before a ball was kicked in the final, stripping off in the car park of PC World and then the final insult of racially abusing three young black men for missing penalties.

The usual irony existed: Don’t write in, we know it’s not all fans everywhere but some people who had sung “Southgate, you’re the one, you still turn me on” from the top of a bus or unshirted in a fountain had then been deaf to his calm messages about what patriotism actually means.

His admirable stance, however, means we are tiptoeing around his performance on the touchline and there have been only tentative suggestions that he had mismanaged the tactics. Even when he told us, “it’s on me, I’m to blame” – the reaction was simply “what a man, what a leader”, rather than thinking that maybe he’s right. It is on him.

The great unsaid of these past three years is that England have benefited from exceptionally fortunate draws at the World Cup and at the Euros. They beat Germany – but in the context of playing at home and at an opportune moment when time had caught up on the old rivals. Losing against Sweden, Colombia, Ukraine and Denmark would have been considered a catastrophe, but were hailed as superb wins.

England could’ve and should’ve beaten Italy, but Southgate’s Fort Knox approach of a million defenders did not play to the squad’s strengths. It was his choice to try to defend a goal lead for 88 minutes.

Perhaps understandably though, nobody had the appetite to tell the statesman that his caution had proven costly.

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