You flinched a few weeks ago when Gareth Southgate was pressed on whether that brand of ‘arrogance’ with which Eddie Jones has resurrected English rugby union, might be something he, too, could use.
Jones felt that England spent too much time trying to be liked, "going around the world apologising", it was pointed out at St George’s Park to the then interim manager. “Well, Eddie won’t do that, will he?” Southgate replied.
Those who demand noise, swagger and razzle-dazzle in their football managers – and there are many – will not take well to a response like that. But what Southgate brings – intelligence, humour and a particularly deft line in self-deprecation – is hugely welcome at the end of a year when we have seen yet more of that puffed up sense of entitlement that can tend to accompany the national football team. We’ve really had a skinful of arrogance.
Tactically, Southgate has wasted no time in bringing out a new England – ready to press hard, drop out of possession if necessary and bring the ball out defence rapidly when the moment presents itself.
What we saw against both Scotland and Spain in the last of his four games in temporary charge was certainly more imaginative than anything Roy Hodgson or, briefly, Sam Allardyce had offered.
The national team is beset with the same weakness we have witnessed at critical junctures throughout the past few years – a technical deficit when it comes to defending. It would be foolish to bet against that cutting the side off at the kneecaps in some Russian stadium or other, two years for now.
The management team’s capacity to deal with it is restricted by the time they have with the players. “You are limited with impact you can make at international level,” Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland observed in one of his few discussions of their role together with the England Under-21s.
The pair are both also hamstrung by the overwhelming dominance of the Premier League beast, which has reduced England to a near irrelevance. But what happens next could be interesting. Those who lack arrogance have certainly flourished at the helm of great sides – none less than Sir Alf Ramsay; Bob Paisley, the most successful of them all in his ratio of trophies per season; more recently Carlo Ancelotti and Claudio Ranieiri.
Southgate’s appointment is progressive. For a national side which has known pitifully little of the quality, it actually feels like progress.Reuse content