SCOTS THE MEASURE FOR LIONS?
Even feeble FA can’t let Southgate survive if he loses to Scotland
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.