Why oh why don’t Man Utd fans want ‘collegiate’ king of ‘husbandry’ Gareth Southgate?

Editor F365
Southgate Manchester United
Gareth Southgate is among the managers being 'assessed' by Manchester United.

Mediawatch naively thought we were beyond the days of Sam Allardici and pretending that being English is a barrier to being appointed by an elite football club, especially with Chelsea appointing two Englishmen in the last two years and an Englishman being in charge of one of the richest clubs in the world.

But where there’s even a hint of the great white Englishman being discriminated against, you can usually find the Mail and on this occasion Oliver Holt.

There are obstacles to the appointment of Gareth Southgate as the next manager of Manchester United. Not least among them is that he is English, which, according to the inverted snobbery of the time, is viewed by many as an impediment.

Firstly, that’s not what ‘inverted snobbery’ means. Unless of course you are suggesting that Southgate’s middle-classness is an issue over and above his very, very poor record in the Premier League.

As for his Englishness, it’s actually the very, very least of the obstacles because on this occasion it really is his greatest asset: Manchester United would not even be considering Southgate as manager without the relationship between him and incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth.

Aside from the issue of his Englishness, would Southgate be the popular choice at United. We live in the football era of the cult of personality and, even though Southgate has plenty of personality, it is not the kind that those who shout the loudest warm to.

We do live in the football era of the cult of personality but we also live in the football era of the cult of winning sh*t, and the only thing Southgate has won as manager is the Toulon tournament of 2016. And a Premier League manager of the month award in 2008.

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Meanwhile, Thomas Tuchel – the actual favourite for the Manchester United job – has won trophies in three countries for four different clubs, including a Bundesliga title, and the Champions League with a Chelsea team that Englishman Frank Lampard was taking nowhere.

But yes, choosing Tuchel over Southgate would definitely be about the latter’s Englishness and reserved personality.

None of that changes the fact – unpopular opinion though it may be – that Southgate is the outstanding candidate to take over from Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford this summer. He is the man Ratcliffe desperately needs to lead his resurrection of English football’s moribund giant.

It is an ‘unpopular opinion’ (unless you are a football journalist who gets on very well with Southgate) because it is patently not true.

There is nothing in Southgate’s club management history to suggest he could lead any kind of resurrection. And there is nothing in Southgate’s international management history to suggest he has anything like the tactical nous needed by an elite Premier League club.

It is now more pertinent to argue Southgate’s experience as England manager and all the pressures that has brought, all the man-management issues it has thrown up, all the diplomatic challenges it has brought off the pitch, is the perfect apprenticeship for the United job.

Managing England is one of the only jobs that could prepare a coach for managing United and Southgate has been doing just that for more than seven years. He has taken everything his critics have thrown at him and he has thrived.

It is indeed ideal preparation if there wasn’t the very small matter of what happens on the pitch to consider. Managing Manchester United is not all about man-management, diplomacy and taking criticism; it’s also about coaching, tactical innovations and recruitment. And there is literally nothing to suggest that Southgate excels in any of those areas. None.

His husbandry of England has established him as one of the best man-managers in the game, a quality that has become more and more vital in an age when the players have so much of the power. Southgate has made it enjoyable to play for England again.

‘Husbandry’ is unintentionally funny, but you know whose ‘husbandry’ we never celebrate? Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola. The best coaches in the Premier League are not renowned for their ‘husbandry’.

You know what would make playing for Manchester United fun again? Winning games. They seemed to quite enjoy that last season. And you know what makes teams win games? Excellent recruitment, coaching and preparation. It’s not all inflatable unicorns and table tennis tournaments.

Holt consistently makes the point that Southgate has revitalised England without a single reference to any tactical innovation. And nor does he suggest that he could bring that to Manchester United. So what could he bring?

(Ratcliffe) is building a football operations structure that includes highly respected, proven operators like Dan Ashworth, the incoming sporting director, and Jason Wilcox, the new technical director; a structure into which a smart, intelligent, collegiate man like Southgate would fit perfectly.

‘Collegiate’? According to the Cambridge dictionary, Holt has described Southgate as ‘of or belonging to a college or its students’. We’re not even sure that men can be ‘collegiate’; we are absolutely sure that Holt just wanted to say he wears a suit well.

In a system where Southgate is only one part of the structure, rather than the man who dictates everything, the disadvantages of him only being able to take up the manager’s position at United in mid-July are far from insuperable.

After so many years in the wilderness, it is worth waiting a few weeks for the man who can lead United back towards their promised land.

And that is how it ends. Holt has written 1060 words on why Gareth Southgate is the right man to lead the ‘resurrection of English football’s moribund giant’ without once mentioning anything that might happen on the pitch.

And he wants to rail against ‘the cult of personality’.