Mbappe, Arteta and Ten Hag among six catching strays in England blame game at Euro 2024

Will Ford
Mbappe Arteta Ten Hag England
Kylian Mbappe, Erik ten Hag and Mikel Arteta are all to blame for England at Euro 2024.

England are through to the Euro 2024 quarter-finals having been almost entirely rubbish. Gareth Southgate has been apportioned the vast majority of the blame for their insipid displays, which makes sense, as does criticising the players for being nowhere near the levels we see them display for their clubs.

But other individuals who have had nothing to do with Southgate’s tactics or the players’ inability to do anything more than the basics have been catching strays in England blame game.

Here’s a list of six individuals – comprising managers, a player and a club owner – at fault for England being terrible at Euro 2024.

 

Mikel Arteta – Moving Bukayo Saka
The clamour for a Cole Palmer start is significant after four ineffective displays from Saka. Not helped by Kyle Walker’s apparent inability to pass, either to his correct foot or with the required force, and hindered even further by the right-back consistently failing to overlap or underlap to draw the focus of defenders, Saka has looked a shadow of the effervescent right winger who’s been Arsenal’s standout player across the last three seasons.

There now appears to be a distinct possibility that Saka will start the game against Switzerland at left wing-back, which pangs of desperation – but then that’s where we are – as Southgate considers reverting to three-centre backs. The problem (or one of the problems) is that England haven’t played with a back three in a major tournament since the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy – this group of players won’t know what they’re doing. ‘No change there then,’ we all chortled.

But Southgate would probably never have switched from the back three which recaptured the imagination of England supporters first at the World Cup in Russia and then at Euro 2020 if Mikel Arteta hadn’t moved Saka from the left. The 22-year-old played 61 games there for the Gunners, with another 22 at left-back, after breaking into the first team, before his selfish manager moved him into a position he’s far better suited to, turning Arsenal into title challengers but royally screwing England over.

 

Pep Guardiola – Man City are too good
It’s hardly surprising that a significant amount of the blame for England’s woes has been aimed at the Manchester City players. Phil Foden,  Walker and John Stones have been no better or worse than the majority of their England teammates, but the difference between their performance levels for club and country have been among the most stark.

Foden averaged a goal contribution every 109 minutes for Manchester City last season and is now 895 minutes without one for England. Walker is an unbeatable force for City but an attack-stunting liability for England. Stones turns from a Rolls Royce to a Volvo when he slips the Three Lions shirt on.

Some have claimed they’ve been overworked at City, or have grown complacent because of their ludicrous success, but surely they’ve just been spoiled by the brilliance of their club manager, and when they turn up for England, playing alongside those who haven’t been exposed to Guardiola, and told what to do by a manager not fit to place his markers on the tactics board, they’re not half as effective.

Where would they each be without Guardiola? Walker would be bombing up and down a flank in Turkey somewhere having been booted out of the Premier League for his volatility. Stones would be in and out of the Fulham team, vying for a place with Tim Ream. Foden would just have made a £55m move to Manchester United.

 

Erik ten Hag – The ‘really poor’ Luke Shaw decision
“It’s kind of ­everyone’s fault. Partly my fault, partly medical staff, I think everyone would admit that,” said after he aggravating a hamstring injury in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Luton Town in mid-February, having gone off with the same issue the week before against Aston Villa.

“I couldn’t believe he played in that game,” Gary Neville said, laying the blame at Ten Hag’s door. “It was really poor” from the United boss, Neville added.

We could almost forgive Ten Hag if Shaw had picked up a new injury against Villa, but the fact that it was the recurrence of an issue that had already kept him out of the side for 13 Premier League games that season makes his call to play him against Luton an absurd one.

And sure, Southgate could have included another left-back in his squad to stop that side of England’s attack from being rendered totally useless, but it wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for Ten Hag’s negligence.

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Jurgen Klopp – Ignoring Alexander-Arnold clamour
“Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I don’t understand that really,” Klopp said in response to Southgate playing Trent in midfield against Andorra in September 2021, an experiment which lasted just 45 minutes. We got into the second half of the second game at Euro 2024 before Southgate again realised it was a square peg in a round hole, but Klopp could have done him a favour in the interim.

The German knew three years ago that Southgate was keen on Alexander-Arnold in midfield, and yet Klopp continued to play him at right-back, further teasing the England boss by getting him to drift into midfield more frequently, as Alexander-Arnold displayed what he can do in that position before – and this is key – moving back to the right when Liverpool lost possession.

What have Liverpool won in the meantime with “the best right-back in the world” playing at right-back? A League Cup and FA Cup? Pointless. Lots of pretty passes from the base of midfield would have softened the blow of mid-table mediocrity.

 

Kylian Mbappe – The PSG betrayal
Having said he would never leave Paris Saint-Germain for free, that’s what Mbappe’s done. Well, sort of. He’s given them a big chunk of change despite Real Madrid not paying PSG anything, and he apparently gave up a significant portion of his bonus. But the Ligue 1 side would have got a helluva lot more had he gone to Madrid last summer, when a €250m deal had apparently been agreed.

Jude Bellingham had already swapped Borussia Dortmund for the La Liga giants by that point, presumably believing – as the rest of us did – that he would still be operating as a box-to-box midfielder rather than in the false nine role he took up as a result of the Mbappe deal not going through.

He did rather well for Madrid in his debut season, but his change of position has befuddled Southgate, who is now convinced Bellingham is best further forward, in exactly the same spot both Harry Kane and Phil Foden also like to patrol. He may well be, but as has been proven beyond doubt in Germany – despite his extraordinary goal against Slovakia to keep the Three Lions in the tournament – that best position isn’t best for England, and he would be playing deeper next to Rice had Mbappe not betrayed PSG and moved to Madrid when he was supposed to.

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Todd Boehly – ‘Pure profit’ obsession
The most minor infraction because other than being Southgate’s fall guy in the midfield debate, Conor Gallagher’s not done a great deal so far for England, and is unlikely to do much more.

But we reckon it’s fair to question just how focused a player can be in the knowledge that his boyhood club – where he’s been since the age of eight – is doing everything possible to sell him in the name of ‘pure profit’, which will undoubtedly be used to sign South American teenagers no one’s ever heard of, one of three of whom may come good.