How Much Are the Players to Blame for England’s Performances?

How Much Are the Players to Blame for England’s Performances?

We're often quick to blame the manager for poor performances in football, but are we right to do so in the case of England?

England might have got their EURO 2024 campaign off to a winning start but their performance in Gelsenkirchen flattered to deceive. An unmistakable feeling of déjà vu would have come over most England fans, who watched their team toil for much of the second half after taking the lead against Serbia. The reality is that controlling games when in ascendancy is a problem for the Three Lions; the question is who is to blame for this recurring Achilles heel in international tournaments?

The Blame Game

The deafening din on social media will have you believe that it is Gareth Southgate’s fault. To an extent, this is true, as Southgate does tend to favour a conservative approach when in front. The most costly example of this tactic came against Italy during the final of EURO 2020 when England took the lead after just two minutes. 

However, the Three Lions began to drop deeper as the game continued, and the streetwise Italian team didn’t need a second invite. Leonardo Bonucci would equalise in the 67th minute before Italy would go on to beat England on penalties

Leonardo Bonucci
Leonardo Bonucci – Italy

Southgate’s Cross to Bear

The final of EURO 2020 follows Southgate around and is the stick that fans use to beat him with. The criticism that usually follows is that Southgate is out of his depth. 

It is, however, easy to forget that only Sir Alf Ramsey and Fabio Capello have better win percentages than Southgate as an England manager. 

It’s also worth pointing out that Capello’s inclusion on this list is somewhat misleading, as the Italian had virtually no success on the international tournament stage, with England dumped out of the World Cup in South Africa in the 16th round.

In other words, only one other man has enjoyed more success than Southgate at the biggest tournaments as England’s manager which, in short, indicates that the 53-year-old’s approach works. 

If you had any lingering doubts about this effectiveness, then consider that England’s win against Serbia was only the second time in 11 attempts that the Three Lions have won their opening match at the EUROs.

Their only other win on match day 1 at the EUROS came 3 years ago under Southgate. In addition to this, and regardless of what might have been said after 90 minutes in Gelsenkirchen, Southgate’s England are still the favourites to win EURO 2024 at odds of 7/2.

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate- England

Back Southgate’s England in Germany 

If you think that the Three Lions will go all the way in Germany then you can claim these EURO betting promotions with bookmakers like Bet365, Paddy Power, and William Hill offering as much as £30 in free bets to be used on this summer’s showpiece. Whether England win their first trophy since 1966 remains to be seen. The wider point is that Southgate’s style delivers results.  

Fàbregas Offers a Different Perspective 

This isn’t necessarily an argument that holds much water with England fans though, as the overriding opinion is that Southgate has had the luxury of working with the best players in the country’s history. It does, however, feel like a short-sighted belief when considering how no manager was able to achieve any notable success with England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation.’

Still, this narrative of Southgate failing to get the best out of his players is a popular line to take in the wake of an underwhelming performance. Micah Richards was the latest pundit to explore it after the 1-0 win over Serbia.

Sitting next to Richards in the BCC Studio overlooking the Brandenburg Gate was Cesc Fàbregas, who listened to his colleague’s complaints about Southgate’s use of Phil Foden. 

Eventually, Fàbregas interjected to say that it was up to the players, such as Foden, to impose himself on the game and that the manager was not to blame. 

The Spaniard used Jude Bellingham as an example of an individual who does not need any instruction when it comes to showing character on the pitch. Fàbregas expressed an interesting point of view and raised questions about certain players lacking the hunger to succeed on the international stage. 

Phil Foden
Phil Foden – England

A Long Overdue Counter-Argument 

Overall, does this lethargy affect Southgate’s plans when seeing out a game? Or, does a player like Foden, who has won four Premier League titles in a row, lack the much-needed determination that would help this England side look less sluggish and more in control? 

Ultimately, is it right to hang Southgate out to dry when the performance levels of certain players are clearly below par? This is a conversation that has been in dire need of an alternative point of view; now that Fàbregas has provided one, Southgate might get the respect he deserves.