Wilshere, Hart snubbed in World Cup squad: Why Gareth Southgate's bold streak offers England hope
Gareth Southgate's decision to axe Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere from his World Cup squad on Wednesday shows the bold streak which runs through his reign, and hints at a bright future for the national side, writes Tom Adams.
Southgate makes for an unlikely iconoclast. But his quiet and careful persona – a stark contrast to the boastful and brash Allardyce depicted in the undercover Telegraph video which brought his reign as England manager to a close after one pitiful game – should not disguise a smouldering revolutionary zeal.
If Southgate was perceived to be an FA yes-man when the governing body turned to him in the crisis days of September 2016, someone to steady the ship and keep things ticking over, then he has consistently proved those pre-conceptions wrong. Hart and Wilshere are just the latest two big names, employed by big clubs, to get on the wrong end of one of Southgate’s ruthless decisions. Reputations be damned.
The results haven’t always been spectacular – England have only scored more than one goal once in their past seven matches, and that came in a narrow 2-1 win at home to Slovakia in September 2017 – but the story of Southgate’s England reign has been one of bold decisions, of putting foundations in place. The former England Under-21 manager is zealous in his promotion of young talents – Loftus-Cheek and Alexander-Arnold are the beneficiaries in Wednesday’s World Cup squad – and allied to that there has been a welcome evolution in style which simply would not have been possible under Allardyce.
John Stones and Jordan Pickford were key to England's new approach in the friendly against NetherlandsGetty Images
The March friendlies were on the face of things non-descript – a 1-0 win over Netherlands in Amsterdam and a 1-1 draw at home to Italy – but something significant was happening across those 180 minutes. England were playing the ball out from the back. Not with a few token passes before giving up and booting it forward, but bravely committing to a short-passing style from the goalkeeper and back five as they constructed moves from their own penalty box. It was a clear departure from the past.
" It’s one of the real highlights of being in the role, that you are not a threat to anybody so you can pick their brains and they might share a little more openly - certainly more than they might with each other."
Contained within the document is another telling passage: “English football has a rich heritage and history that we want all England players to be aware and respectful of. History itself, however, must not become a burden. The future is the focus and the aim is to create new history. There are many examples of creative and technically excellent players who have played for England, as well as innovative coaches and managers – aspects of our history that we want to develop.”
Kyle Walker of England and Gareth Southgate share a jokeGetty Images
Allardyce would not have been a break from England's imperfect past. But Southgate has shown signs that he is. The key now is to take this approach into the World Cup. England will not win the tournament but Russia is a chance to secure validation for Southgate’s approach. To consecrate his vision for England, learn some lessons, and then work towards Euro 2020, where the semi-finals and final will be played at Wembley. Following that cataclysmic defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, expectations are as low as at any point in recent memory. For Southgate, this presents an opportunity. As early as his first press conference after replacing Allardyce, Southgate spelled out his intentions for this World Cup. “I think the potential is high but we need some of those experiences,” he said. “It is only failure if we don't learn from it and build on the good things that have happened.”
" You are blessed with a coach who is brave and innovative. England has the tools because the manager and the players have the mentality, attitude, character – it is all there for you."
The final part of Klopp’s address to the Football Writers’ Association also included a gentle warning to the press. “Maybe reduce the pressure a notch or two, that is where you can help I think. Maybe take the numbers 1966 off your computer keyboards for the summer and let this team write their own history and memories.”
With the assistance of Southgate’s bold leadership, they have a chance.