Opinion: No more excuses - Euro 2020 will be true test of Southgate as England boss
England have the talent to go all the way at Euro 2020 this season. In 2018, the Three Lions were a work-in-progress. There were holes in their squad. That is no longer the case. The lack of heated debate about Gareth Southgate's 33-man provisional squad selection says a lot about the quality of the talent pool.
English club success complicates England preparation claims Southgate
In 1998, it was the omission of Paul Gascoigne. In 2006, the inclusion of a 16-year-old Theo Walcott generated weeks of debate. In 2021, though, there weren’t many points of contention as Gareth Southgate named England’s provisional squad for their latest major tournament campaign, Euro 2020.
Some made the case for Fikayo Tomori after a successful second half of the season on loan at AC Milan. Others argued Patrick Bamford should have been picked ahead of Ollie Watkins having scored 17 goals in 38 Premier League appearances for Leeds United. Neither of these players would have been core to the squad, though, with just one England cap between them.
There might be more debate when Southgate whittles down his 33-man provisional squad to the 26 permitted by UEFA for the competition, when some difficult decisions will be made, but the lack of heated debate over the players called up hints at England’s strength as a national team right now.
Not since 2006 have the Three Lions entered a major tournament with such a strong, well-balanced squad. England’s talent pool might be slightly top-heavy, with so many world class attackers to choose from, but their back four will still be one of the best at Euro 2020 this summer.
At the 2018 World Cup, England’s midfield was a black hole of creativity which forced Southgate to adopt a counter-attacking style. Now, though, he has the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount, all capable of breaking down a low defensive block with guile.
All this is to say Southgate will have no excuses if England don’t make a run into the latter rounds of Euro 2020. Three years ago, the Three Lions travelled to Russia without much expectation on their shoulders. England were at the start of a rebuild and a generational transition. That is no longer the case.
Phil Foden of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on May 23, 2021 in Manchester, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
This is still a young England squad - Jordan Henderson, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker are the most senior figures at 30 - but this is a group of players good enough, and experienced enough, to go all the way at a major tournament. Southgate must devise a system and approach to harness the talent he has at his disposal.
England will need to do much more than counter-attack on opponents, as they did in 2018, this summer. That will only take them so far. This is where Southgate still has to prove himself at the top level of the international game. Euro 2020 will be the ultimate referendum on his suitability to be England manager.
Southgate has always sought to be as transparent as possible in his decision-making process as England boss, sometimes to a fault. The 50-year-old namechecked Tomori and Ezri Konsa as being on his radar for his Euro 2020 squad - will this encourage or discourage them having come so close?
This commitment to transparency led Southgate to name a larger provisional squad. He cited the number of players involved in the Champions League and Europa League finals this week as an explanation for this, but at what point does this very public process veer into indecision?
What more is Southgate going to learn about his four right back options, for instance, before June 1, UEFA’s deadline for final squads to be named? Luis Enrique named just 24 players to his squad on Monday, explaining he didn’t want to select players who wouldn’t play in the tournament, so why has Southgate’s method been so bloated?
Southgate has earned a great deal of respect as England manager. He has proved himself as a good public speaker and as a champion of young talent. Whenever he leaves his job, England will likely be in a better place than when he took over. But he still has a point to prove as a football manager. His project must culminate in something meaningful this summer.