Southgate to Man Utd? England boss has been replicating Ten Hag’s biggest failing for years

Jason Soutar
Gareth Southgate and Erik ten Hag with the Man Utd badge.
Gareth Southgate and Erik ten Hag with the Man Utd badge.

Gareth Southgate’s overall record as England manager is fantastic but beating the biggest and best nations has proven difficult. That is not the sign of a top manager and is something Erik ten Hag can relate to at Manchester United, who should look elsewhere.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is adamant he can Make Manchester United Great Again and in his attempt to do so, he wants an English core in the squad, and apparently in the dugout as well.

Gareth Southgate to Man Utd?

There have been transfer links to Ivan Toney and Marc Guehi, who would join Mason Mount, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire and Kobbie Mainoo at Old Trafford, but most notably we have seen Southgate’s name thrown in the mix with Ten Hag under pressure to impress Ratcliffe enough in the next few months.

At the moment, the summer looks certain to be more about managers on the move than players and it would not be a surprise to see the Red Devils get involved in all of the fun, even if they do not currently have the lure of Bayern Munich and Liverpool, which is something Ratcliffe desperately wants to change.

Thomas Tuchel and Xabi Alonso would be very ambitious appointments and the former is definitely the more likely of the two, while Ruben Amorim or Julian Nagelsmann would be viewed as a positive step. Only Tuchel has Premier League experience out of those four names but reports suggest Ratcliffe’s top choice really might be England boss Southgate.

Despite leading the Three Lions to the final of a major tournament and the semi-final of another, the jury has always been out on Southgate, who has never been deemed a tournament-winning manager.

Qualifying campaigns have been a doddle, mind-numbingly dull, and pointless with the former Middlesbrough manager at the helm, which is perfect for a team like England, who expect zero struggles in qualifying groups that for them really should be formalities.

In a tournament setting, you can say England have over-achieved. The argument is also there for this group of players under-achieving. As I have claimed in the past, Southgate’s side were never the favourites for any of the tournaments they failed to win and the squad was actually slightly over-rated.

Going into the 2022 World Cup, there was a case to be made for Harry Kane being the only world-class player at Southgate’s disposal. Of course, everyone has a different definition when it comes to the very subjective phrase ‘world-class’, but in my humble opinion that was the case.

This is not to say I was wrong for that statement after the exit to France in Qatar, but the situation has changed a bit. Kane is now joined by Jude Bellingham, John Stones, Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka in that bracket, while there are cases to be made for Phil Foden (especially if you are in the Foden > Saka camp) and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Euro 2024 is different from the 2022 and 2018 World Cups and Euro 2020. England should be deemed as the favourites alongside France, who are arguably the only superior squad to Southgate’s, boasting world-class stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

After nearly eight years in charge, it is now or never for Southgate in Germany. He has to show Ratcliffe and Manchester United that he is a top manager by doing what he has failed to do in the job: beat a top team in a major tournament on course to winning the whole damn thing.

In Euro 2020, England were victorious over Germany in the last 16, but it has to be said that Germany have been rubbish for a while. An over-achieving Denmark in the semi-finals after dismantling Ukraine in the quarters was a very favourable draw in reaching the final against Italy, in a tournament in which they were given home advantage in every fixture bar one, the 4-0 win over Ukraine in Rome.

Gareth Southgate celebrates a win.

It feels harsh to take away from England’s 2018 World Cup campaign so I won’t dive deep into that. However, it is worth noting that they beat Tunisia, Panama, Colombia (on penalties), and Sweden, losing to Belgium twice, and to Croatia in the semis.

Again, the more recent World Cup draw handed the Three Lions a relatively simple group, finishing top ahead of the United States, Iran and Wales.

Senegal in the last 16 might have been difficult had Sadio Mane been fit and even against champions of Africa, Southgate’s men were the strong favourites.

Then came France. Win that and you would have to fancy England to go the whole way. Unfortunately for them, they lost 2-1 after Harry Kane blasted a second-half penalty into row Z, for which he has incidentally not had a quarter of the abuse Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho received for their spot-kick failings against Italy in the final of the 2020 European Championships. Just saying.

The failure when playing a competent side is going to be what Southgate’s spell as England boss is remembered for by fans if he does not go all the way this summer. Not completely changing the culture and making players want to play for their country again, unless you are Benjamin White.

The failure to win a trophy with another possible ‘Golden Generation’ is going to be a dark cloud hovering over Southgate’s career, and in fairness, should probably rule him out of the running for the Manchester United job.

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Ratcliffe’s apparent desire to sack Ten Hag will come from a lack of identity on the pitch and like England under Southgate, the Dutchman’s failure to beat their biggest rivals.

Tuesday’s draw and performance against Belgium again called into question Southgate’s methods and his inability to win trickier fixtures, and it is worth comparing his results as England boss against the top nine nations ranked by FIFA to Ten Hag’s results at the other eight sides to finish in the top nine in last season’s Premier League table – a record that has also come under scrutiny.

Ten Hag’s lone win in the selected fixtures came against Aston Villa in February, while he has two draws (at Tottenham in 2022/23 and Liverpool in 2023/24), losing 11 of the 14 matches.

Unlike Southgate, Ten Hag’s pants have been fully pulled down on too many occasions. Shipping in six and seven to Manchester City and Liverpool, respectively, last season, while being battered 4-0 by Brentford and fortunate not to lose by more in humbling defeats to Newcastle United, Arsenal, Brighton and City again, in this season’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad. A goal difference of minus 27 does the majority of the talking for us, to be fair.

Southgate with his pragmatic approach and stellar squad have contributed towards more narrow defeats to England’s rivals, but plenty of them nonetheless.

Against FIFA’s top nine nations, Southgate has won five of his 20 matches. Taking away the seven friendlies gives us a more relevant comparison to Ten Hag, winning four, drawing two, and losing seven of these fixtures at a major tournament or in the UEFA Nations League. One of those draws was against Italy in the final of Euro 2020, a game the Three Lions lost on penalties.

More specifically, Southgate has lost both games against France (one friendly), failed to win in two friendlies against Brazil, lost their only competitive game against the Netherlands, won one in five against Belgium, and have won their previous two against Italy after scoring twice and failing to win in four against the Azzurri. The record against Spain is fairly even, drawing one, losing one, and winning the other.

One win in seven friendly matches is a shocking record for Southgate, but it is also relatively insignificant. Four in 13 in a competitive match is proof that the former England defender is not the man for Manchester United, and someone whose biggest weakness is worryingly similar to one of Ten Hag’s, and this is the man Ratcliffe is apparently not convinced by. Hmm.

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