Inside the gamble to decide fate of Poms’ golden generation… and $168m new dawn that looms

    Throughout Gareth Southgate’s tenure as England manager, he has got a lot right.

    Statistically speaking, Southgate is one of England’s greatest managers thanks to semi final and quarterfinal appearances at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively along with a run to the final at Euro 2020.

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    He’s also overseen the transformation of a squad dripping with superstars but lacking chemistry in the early 2010s to one that plays as a cohesive unit and isn’t divided by allegiances at club level.

    Most importantly, he fostered an environment to remove the fear factor typically associated with wearing an England shirt, a jersey so often shackled by the weight of expectation from the nation.

    However, there’s a sense that for all Southgate has achieved in the England hot seat, he should have turned those deep tournament runs into something more.

    The Three Lions’ trophy drought is well documented. Not since the 1966 World Cup has the men’s team won anything.

    Although Southgate has come the closest to ending it, the window for this crop of England stars is rapidly closing.

    Before we know it, the 2026 World Cup will arrive and it will be time for a new generation to take the nation forward.

    Southgate knows just as much, with his Euro 2024 squad a nod to the here and now but also with an eye towards the future.

    This tournament may well prove to be Southgate’s final bow as England boss given his contract expires in December and even if the FA want to keep him on, there’s no guarantee he’s keen to stay in the post.

    But with some brutal omissions from his final 26-man squad, the 53-year-old has shown he won’t be left wanting if this truly is his last dance as Three Lions boss.


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    Euro 2024 looms as Southgate’s last tournament outing as England manager. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


    For the majority of his time in charge, Southgate has been dogged by accusations he has picked on reputation rather on form.

    But several brave selection calls for England’s Euro 2024 squad proved those doubters wrong.

    Jordan Henderson, a longtime stalwart of Southgate’s squads and a former captain, didn’t even make the preliminary Euros squad.

    Nor did Marcus Rashford, who was woeful for Manchester United this season but one of England’s most damaging attacking options when on song.

    But the biggest selection shocks were to come: Harry Maguire, James Maddison and Jack Grealish all failed to make Southgate’s final 26-man squad.

    Maguire, one of Southgate’s most trusted lieutenants and a physical presence on set pieces, missed United’s final five games of the season with a calf injury.

    Although there was a chance Maguire would return to fitness later in the tournament, Southgate could not afford to bring a body who wouldn’t be ready to go for the group stages.

    Maddison registered just five goal involvements from Tottenham’s final 17 league games but “still thought there would be a space” in the squad given he’d “been a mainstay” through England’s Euro qualifying campaign.

    Such was the shock over Grealish’s snub, The Telegraph reported a senior player spoke to Southgate to understand the decision as his England teammates visited his room to offer support.

    Grealish’s form had dropped off compared to his displays in 22/23 for Manchester City but many expected the winger to make the cut given his remarkable dribbling ability and protection of the ball.

    Grealish’s omission left several players stunned. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

    “In the attacking positions we’re blessed with a lot of options and Madders and Jack gives us something different,” Southgate said on his final squad.

    “They were tough calls, but we back our decisions but recognise we could’ve gone a different route. It was sad to have to deliver that news to them.”

    Southgate decided to reward the likes of Crystal Palace duo Eberechi Eze and Adam Wharton for their impressive late season form while Manchester United’s teenage midfielder Kobbie Mainoo also earned a call-up.

    Newcastle winger Anthony Gordon was the man picked ahead of Grealish thanks to an impressive season in which he scored 11 league goals and chalked up 10 assists.

    So yes, there’s an element Southgate has finally picked a team — or at least some players — on form.

    But he’s also taken a major gamble on some of his bigger names, making certain exclusions all the more puzzling.

    John Stones started just two of City’s last ten league games while fellow centre back Marc Guehi only returned from three months out with a knee injury for Crystal Palace. on May 6.

    Luke Shaw, the only natural left back in the team, has not played since February.

    Kieran Trippier, who has had to deputise at left back in Shaw’s absence, missed eight of Newcastle’s last 11 games with a calf injury and two of his three appearances in that spell were substitute appearances.

    Shaw has been out of action for several months. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)Source: AFP

    The inclusions of Stones and Guehi must have left Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite wondering what more he could’ve done having played 35 games for a Toffees team that conceded the fourth-fewest goals in the Premier League.

    Outside from the controversial squad calls, Southgate has shown he has one eye on the 2026 World Cup.

    All up, only 12 of the 25 in England’s 2022 World Cup squad remain, heralding the slow transition of a new generation into the team.

    The age factor is also another intriguing subplot in England’s Euro 2024 squad as 46 per cent of players are aged 25 or under.

    One of which is 20-year-old Jude Bellingham, who moved to Real Madrid for an eye-watering $AUD168 million last June.

    “Southgate has fretted about a number of problems but after Iceland they seemed to be flushed into the public domain, the narrative taking in the search for someone to ride to the rescue,” The Guardian’s David Hynter wrote.

    “Which is where Bellingham – who was given additional leave after his involvement for Real Madrid in their Champions League final victory over Borussia Dortmund on last Saturday – comes in.

    “It is not difficult to present him as a talisman, given the spectacular season he has had for Madrid.”

    With the next crop of stars slowly drip-fed into England’s senior team, it places extra emphasis on Euro 2024 for those senior figures to finally taste tournament success.

    Six players in this England team are aged 30 or over and if this same squad is picked for the 2026 World Cup, that number would increase to nine.

    Yet there’s just one small matter that takes precedence over any future squad selections: Southgate’s future.

    Bellingham will be England’s go-to guy for many years to come. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


    There’s two ways people tend to view Southgate’s time as England manager.

    Prior to his appointment, England had not made it to the semi final of a major tournament since Euro 1996 under Terry Venables.

    But under Southgate, England made the semi finals twice across two World Cups and Euro 2020.

    By providing relaxed atmospheres and giving his players freedom to do what they do best, the 53-year-old uncovered the blueprint to finally make England consistently successful.

    On the contrary, Southgate’s England have made for, at times, dour viewing.

    Some will also feel they could and should have done better in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with Southgate’s tactics called into question.

    Southgate even admitted just as much: “Could we have done better at different moments during a semi final or a final? Well, yeah, I expect so.”

    A worrying run of just one win in their last five leading into Euro 2024, including a 1-0 defeat to Iceland at Wembley, did little to inspire the nation as the team was booed off.

    England also managed just one shot on target the entire game, their lowest figure since the Euro 2020 fixture against Scotland.

    The need to physically manage the players was used by Southgate as a key mitigating circumstance for the loss to Iceland, but it was an alarming defeat nonetheless.

    “The idea was that the Wembley send-off against Iceland would represent a reset; but it went hard in the other direction,” Hynter wrote.

    England slipped to a shock loss to Iceland in their final friendly ahead of Euro 2024. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

    “The result was bad, a surprise 1-0 defeat; the performance was worse. Southgate was unhappy in the dressing room, making it clear that everything had to be better — particularly the mentality.”

    Defeat to Iceland also provided a grim reminder of what happened when the two sides met at Euro 2016 as the underdogs produced the performance of a lifetime to knock England out in the Round of 16.

    Given England’s status as heavy favourites to win Euro 2024, losing to Iceland in a game that was billed as a celebratory occasion was immensely deflating.

    But, as The Athletic’s Rob Tanner outlined, is it actually that detrimental?

    “Losing against Iceland was unexpected and certainly a setback ahead of the Serbia game, but it doesn’t have to be a huge body blow,” Tanner wrote.

    “If it eases the pressure and stems the flood of folk singing, ‘It’s coming home,’ then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    “As long as several of Southgate’s men recover physically and mentally, it could actually be the humbling experience that could prove to be a blessing in disguise.”

    Regardless of how long or short England’s tournament lasts, attention will quickly shift towards Southgate’s future.

    It is no secret he is out of contract in December, leaving the FA with a big decision to make.

    Southgate came awfully close to leaving the role in the wake of England’s quarterfinal defeat to France at the 2022 World Cup, but elected to stay.

    The 53-year-old has swatted away all questions regarding his future in the lead-up to the tournament and insisted it is not a distraction.

    Southgate has largely refused to entertain his future beyond the tournament. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)Source: AFP

    “Well, for me, it’s not an issue and never has been,” Southgate said.

    “I have to deliver a successful tournament for England and there’s enough work involved in that. I think everybody would expect that’s where my focus should be.”

    However, Southgate gave his strongest indication yet that even if the FA want him to stay on, it will take a historic tournament to remain in the post.

    “If we don’t win, I probably won’t be here anymore. It might be the last chance,” Southgate told German outlet Bild.

    “I think about half of the national coaches leave after a tournament – that’s the nature of international football.

    “I’ve been here for almost eight years now and we’ve come close so I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point, people will lose faith in your message.”

    Southgate must hope people have faith in his message for one more month.

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