Southgate takes charge amid England apathy

Cheap option: Southgate will be the lowest-paid England manager since 2000. © PA

England have yet another new manager. But as club football reigns supreme, some are asking if the public cares about the national team anymore. Is international football doomed?

The next England manager is, appropriately enough, famous for missing a penalty.

It was the European Championships in 1996, hosted in England. The Three Lions played Germany in the semi-finals. The match finished 1–1 and went to a penalty shootout. Up stepped Aston Villa centre-back Gareth Southgate. He missed — and England were out. Twenty years on, Southgate has been named as the national team’s third manager in five months.

Managerial appointments fall into two categories: safe and risky. And pundits are putting Southgate firmly in the ‘safe’ camp. After the abrupt ending of the Sam Allardyce era, the FA favoured the stability of promoting the manager of the under-21s. He will be paid one third of the salary of his predecessor.

But for all his good work with the youngsters, Southgate, like Allardyce and Roy Hodgson before him, is hardly a member of coaching royalty. The idea of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal appointing him is unthinkable.

The FA used to be able to take their pick of the best managers in England, but the last 20 years has seen club football soar ahead of national teams, both in quality and prestige. An international break is now greeted by a collective groan from fans, who see it as an unwelcome fortnight-long hiatus from the breathless opulence of the Premier League.

Two forces have propelled club football forward: globalisation and money. The top dozen clubs in Europe are global brands, able to stockpile the best players from around the world. For many fans, the real ‘World Cup final’ is the final of the European Champions League.

In sports where money is more scarce, like rugby union, international matches still matter more than the relatively parochial clubs.

But international football is immune from these forces. And that is where its romance lies for those who defend it. You cannot buy better players; you have to produce them yourselves, and how rich you are doesn’t really matter. Is international football underrated?

Clubs 1 Countries 0

Absolutely, say some. Representing your country is a very different matter from playing for whoever pays you the most money. International football has a pure egalitarianism to it: it is simply 11 Englishmen versus 11 Scots. England may not be very good at the moment, but we must not forget what a welcome contrast international football can be.

This is idealistic nonsense, respond others. England would finish somewhere in the middle of the Premier League, and even the best international sides could not compete with Barcelona or Bayern Munich. The recent European Championships exposed international football as the club game’s tedious, antiquated partner.

You Decide

  1. Is Gareth Southgate the right man for England?
  2. Which do you prefer: club football or international football?

Activities

  1. Roleplay: divide into pairs and recreate Gareth Southgate’s job interview. One of you plays Southgate and the other plays Martin Glenn, the FA chief executive.
  2. List the three most important ways you think English football needs to change.

Some People Say...

“The England manager should always be English.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t like football. Why does this matter to me?
The reasons behind the rise of club football — money and globalisation — are key features of modern life that go way beyond sport. The conflict between the settled, ordered world of international football and the market-loving, borderless world of club football is symbolic of one of the great political debates of our time.
Do managers really matter that much?
Yes, though some managers matter more than others. They arguably matter less for international teams, given that a manager cannot sign better players. Sacking a bad manager is nothing like an instant cure for all the problems of the England national team. But at club level, where managers have more control and are closer to their players, they matter hugely.

Word Watch

Missing a penalty
England have only won one penalty shootout in a major tournament — against Spain in 1996. They have been eliminated on penalties six times since 1990, to West Germany, Germany, Argentina, Portugal twice and Italy.
One third of the salary
Southgate will earn £1m per year.
Southgate, like Allardyce and Roy Hodgson
None of them has managed an English team in a Champions League match.
Chelsea
None of Chelsea’s last 14 managerial appointments have been English — comfortably the longest run in English football.
Rugby union
While England matches at Twickenham often attract 80,000 spectators, the average attendance in the Aviva Premiership is just 13,611. In the Premier League last year it was 36,451.
Parochial
Small-time, limited in outlook.
Tedious
Euro 2016 was the most defensive major tournament in footballing history, with just 2.12 goals being scored on average per match.