Is England’s post-Southgate managerial ‘succession plan’ really any clearer than Man United’s?

Dave Tickner
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, England coach Gareth Southgate and Sir Jim Ratcliffe
Do England or Manchester United actually know what they're doing?

There are two major storylines to this summer’s football.

You’ve got Euro 2024, which is fine but is at the end of the day mainly actual football and that only gets you so far. The other key theme this summer is, of course, MANAGERGEDDON. That’s got way less actual football in it and a lot more absolute nonsense, so it’s better.

Now that’s not to say Euro 2024 doesn’t have absolute nonsense. The British tabloids will always make sure of that. But the nonsense is clearly secondary to the main action, at least once that finally gets under way on Friday night. Because this week has felt about seven years long.

But your MANAGERGEDDON has the nonsense front and centre all the way. The nonsense is the Managergeddon in a way the nonsense will never actually be Euro 2024.

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The key now, is how to link the two. And that means talking about Gareth Southgate. With the shock twist of Erik ten Hag surviving this particular Managergeddon season – albeit having been thoroughly belittled and humiliated by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who appears to just be an insanely wealthy version of those WORST BOSS EVER! types who get exposed on Instagram and apparently conduct all their incriminating work correspondence over WhatsApp – the sad news for everyone is that Southgate will not now in fact be the next Man United manager. Not yet, anyway.

But by the end of this summer he very likely won’t be England manager. Because of the laws around the nonsense described above, all content about England at a major tournament must either wildly overplay or, more rarely, downplay their chances. They must either be no-hopers or a team for whom only victory can or should be considered anything close to acceptable.

We suspect that even the Opta boffins are slightly guilty of the former in giving England a roughly 20 per cent chance of success with that defence, but it’s probably not miles off. England are not overwhelming favourites but nor are they the no-hopers some would like to portray. They are some-hopers.

Yet whatever happens – the 20 per cent chance of glory or the 80 per cent chance of shameful failure – it does rather feel like the time will be right for both England and Southgate to go their separate ways. This will be his fourth major tournament in charge of England and that is very much at the outside of the range for England managers.

The FA insist they have a succession plan in place. And we’re sure they do. But we’re also not remotely sure they’re actually any clearer on what happens next than Manchester United are.

The crossover between the two situations extends beyond the Southgate-to-United links. There’s Mauricio Pochettino’s unexpected availability hovering around too. We were pretty sure United would make a more concerted attempt to pounce on that situation because it seemed a perfect solution for them.

It seems if anything even more perfect for England but somehow less likely they pursue it. We’re moving now beyond the generation where Pochettino’s work at Southampton and Tottenham could be felt running through the England team, but his presence is still felt. Harry Kane and Kyle Walker remain, Conor Gallagher has emerged as a genuine potential starter and most pointedly there’s Cole Palmer. There’s a player who didn’t even exist on the fringes of England selection talk before he worked with Pochettino.

But here’s the thing. We think the FA talking about a ‘succession plan’ is actually quite worrying. To us, it suggests their likeliest course of action is to seek a Continuity Southgate candidate. That could get messy for them if Graham Potter and/or Steve Cooper take club jobs before England can actually get to them.

But we don’t think it would alter their course. It’s worth reiterating again here just what a punt Southgate was when he was given the England job. He had failed as a club manager by any reasonable measure and was promoted from the ranks and by all logic beyond his ability largely as a safe and steady pair of hands who wouldn’t bring more embarrassment to the FA after the Sam Allardyce fiasco.

It’s worked far better than absolutely anyone could ever have dared to dream given where England were when Southgate took over with the scars of Euro 2016 still so raw.

Doesn’t mean it’s always going to be the best or only way to go. Maybe they should actually give it to Lee Carsley. He’s actually won something as Under-21 manager, for one thing. And in a world where Jason Wilcox is the football powerbroker at Manchester United surely everything and anything is possible.

Whatever the FA’s plan is or isn’t, we all need to be prepared for those two main storylines to come crashing into each other over the next few weeks. Whether it’s Southgate or England who make the final decision, whether it’s in glory or despair, the season finale of Managergeddon is going to be the big one.