Even fee­ble FA can’t let South­gate sur­vive if he loses to Scot­land

The Star (Kenya) - - Sports International - MARTIN SA­MUEL From the Heart of the Mat­ter

Gareth South­gate could still be Eng­land man­ager if he lost to Scot­land next month, ac­cord­ing to his Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion em­ploy­ers. No, he couldn’t. Get real. Not from a po­si­tion as care­taker. If the FA are so de­ter­mined to award South­gate a pass mark on his test, why didn’t they just give him the job per­ma­nently when Sam Al­lardyce left?

Not much point set­ting up a trial pe­riod, and then deem­ing the out­come ir­rel­e­vant. Lose to Scot­land at Wem­b­ley in a World Cup qual­i­fier, and then get of­fered the po­si­tion full-time? How can that be?

South­gate has two home matches in Novem­ber, against Scot­land and then Spain in a friendly. The sec­ond game is ex­pend­able. Spain are a good team, Eng­land of late are not. There would be no dis­grace in los­ing, pro­vided it wasn’t by a land­slide.

But Scot­land, at home, in a com­pet­i­tive match? That is very dif­fer­ent.

Yet here is FA chief ex­ec­u­tive Martin Glenn on the topic. “Even if those matches don’t go so well, Gareth would still be a can­di­date. You don’t judge a good man­ager on one or two games.”

Yes, you do. Cer­tainly at in­ter­na­tional level. Tour­na­ments boil down to one or two games, qual­i­fy­ing cam­paigns the same. Eng­land man­agers don’t have 50game sea­sons. They might play a dozen or so matches. By the end of 2016, Eng­land will have played 14 games — eight of them com­pet­i­tive, but that’s an ex­cep­tion, a tour­na­ment year.

In 2015 it was 10 — and just six com­pet­i­tive. Re­move the friendlies as ir­rel­e­vant, and dis­count the walkovers — Malta at home, San Marino any­where — and that leaves no more than two or three matches each sea­son that test the mea­sure of an Eng­land man­ager.

Scot­land at home is one of them. Not be­cause Scot­land are any good, but be­cause the game car­ries emo­tion and pres­sure, with plenty to lose and a com­bat­ive edge that recre­ates real tour­na­ment con­di­tions.

Plus, for some rea­son, Eng­land fans still mea­sure their team against Scot­land. Maybe be­cause it is point­less mak­ing com­par­isons with Ger­many, France or Italy any more — that bat­tle is long lost. But Scot­land are fair game, and still in­fe­rior.

The fans sing mock­ing songs and revel in Scot­land’s fail­ure. To lose at home to them, there­fore, would be a far greater em­bar­rass­ment than if Slove­nia, say, had scored a late win­ner.

And it would make South­gate’s po­si­tion un­ten­able. Ev­ery­one, bar the unim­pres­sive Glenn, recog­nises that.

In 1999, Eng­land drew Scot­land in a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship fi­nal play-off, win­ning the first leg 2-0 at Ham­p­den Park. In the re­turn, Don Hutchi­son scored and Scot­land won 1-0. ‘If they had got a sec­ond, I would have had to go,’ man­ager Kevin Kee­gan later ad­mit­ted. And he was a per­ma­nent ap­point­ment, in the job less than a year at the time.

How much harder would it be for South­gate, hop­ing to be el­e­vated from a care­taker role? How could he win over the sup­port­ers af­ter a Wem­b­ley de­feat by a Scot­tish team last seen los­ing 3-0 in Slo­vakia, on the back of a home draw with Lithua­nia? We have been down this road be­fore.

Roy Hodg­son was told he had done well just to get to the 2014 World Cup, and that his exit af­ter two games once there showed great prom­ise. Where did that tri­umph of low ex­pec­ta­tion end? In de­feat by Ice­land two years later.

South­gate is a promis­ing young coach, but more im­por­tantly he is an in­tel­li­gent man, and he will know the re­al­ity even if the FA re­main in de­nial. He beats Scot­land, or it can­not be his time.

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