Southgate out, Klopp in? His England would be exactly as infuriating…

John Nicholson
Jurgen Klopp and former England boss Gareth Southgate
Jurgen Klopp has been tipped by some to replace Gareth Southgate.

The reaction to another poor England game is nothing if not predictable; it’s English exceptionalism at its finest.

Why is there any expectation? Have we not been disappointed before?

Maybe living in Scotland gives a more clear perception but to us, it all seems to exist some distance from observable reality. The sheer entitlement some thoughtlessly and ignorantly display is laughable and always leads to the same result. You expect ‘with these players’ to perform fantastically, but when they don’t, you blame the manager?

It’s happened for 50 years and still it goes on, setting yourself up for another failure to satisfy. Stop it. The blame lies with the public. Stop overrating the team. They’re not a great collective no matter that you think they should be. I doubt that it would take two hands to count the great English performances against a top country. In 50 long, long years. Fifty!

It’s funny how certain some are that Southgate is to blame; it’s been the case for the last 16 managers since Sir Alf. All not good enough. All the wrong man, playing the wrong players in the wrong positions, in the wrong way. Southgate is just the 17th flop. Ludicrous.

Don’t you see how stupid that is? Some fantasise about bringing Klopp in but eventually he would succumb to English crapulence no matter how he tries to overcome it. Southgate’s great achievement has been to fend it off for so long, with the help of a generous draw and playing well enough to beat teams of the same or lesser standard. But it’s impossible to keep doing this and eventually England will revert to the mean, as you’ve seen.

The truth is staring us in the face. If England were good enough at playing together, half a century is plenty of time to have won at least once. We’ve had good players all along. We’ve had workhorses, creatives, technical experts. Put them all together and what is the result? Play poorly as a team and lose.

I’ve not missed an England game on TV or in person since 1967. I should have learned in 1970 when England took a 2-0 lead over West Germany and lost 3-2. It could have been last week. Lose control of midfield, poor ball retention, cede possession, get desperate, last-ditch defending, concede. Oh but the players were some of the best in the world. The same things were said. Don’t say them anymore, please.

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When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. I didn’t and so kept getting hurt with every loss or poor performance, hopes dashed on the rocks of reality.

Surely it’s different now, you say. At least three or four of these players are world class, top scorers and any team would pay handsomely to have them? Yes, perhaps, but England is the worst team they’ve played in. Do you really think Jude Bellingham is in a team equal to or better than Real Madrid with Toni Kroos? Harry Kane in a better team than one with Jamal Musiala? No, but we expect them to play as if they are, ignoring the fact it’s a team game, forever addicted to the individual hero worship.

They’re not bad players – this is not one of those all good or all crap internet, nuance-free discourses and if the past is any guide, they should play well at least once, possibly against Slovenia, but they’re just not as good as assumed when playing for England against a top side.

They don’t reproduce their club form, obviously, because they’re not playing for their clubs. And their clubs are full of foreigners who facilitate them. Even if they’re not household names. Look how good Romania, Turkey or Georgia are. Deficient in some ways but capable of energetic, crisp, fast passing and intuitive positioning so their midfield isn’t forever turning and passing it backwards in a typically English way.

This isn’t to say that England are not good players per se, just that together they aren’t good enough to beat the best sides or perform well against the well organised. It doesn’t matter about individual brilliance. We’ve proven well enough that you’re only as strong as your weakest player.

Look, keep fooling yourself if it makes you feel better. It’s not complicated. The facts are the facts. If England were good enough as a team, not as individuals, they would have won something by now. Everyone else has. No manager tells them to not retain the ball and invite pressure. Ramsey didn’t in 1970 but the English players did it anyway, the Germans didn’t and were resolute in not believing in English exceptionalism, which we were all relying on to win. We are Eng-ur-land, after all.

It explains everything that otherwise seems so puzzling. Their weaknesses are brutally and consistently exposed by better teams. Winning teams’ managers do not belong to a genius-only subsect, they all make mistakes. All winning managers do too. Don’t think it’s just a matter of the unlikely event of getting an infallible genius in. That’s not how it works.

If you think the players are all good enough when playing together, you have to explain the more than half-century of failure without resorting to the specious argument that the manager isn’t good enough.

You can’t.

Ignore your in-built English exceptionalism which has been with you your whole life. We all have it, it’s a dead end and leads to ugly self-recrimination. You know it. You can’t deny the facts and the evidence of your own eyes. England is good but are not good enough to play well more than occasionally, then they will lose. Their form stuck forever between entertaining and enervating.

It’s OK. There will be good times. The truth will set you free. They will play poorly more times than they don’t. Accept it. I’m obviously right, not because I’m especially clever, but I have just seen reality and accepted it. No progress can be made unless you do too and perhaps, even if you do.