Gareth Southgate could be set for a return to the Football Association, after becoming early favourite to replace Stuart Pearce as England Under-21 manager.
Last summer Southgate left his role as head of elite development, asking not be considered for the job of technical director. But he is the front-runner after the FA announced that Stuart Pearce’s six-year reign as Under-21 coach was over, as he will not be offered a new contract.
Pearce led England to four Under-21 Championships but this summer’s tournament was an abject failure, England losing all three group games. His contract expires at the end of the month and the FA announced that, following Club England board discussions, it would not be renewed.
“I'd like to thank Stuart Pearce for his hard work,” said FA chairman David Bernstein. “Nobody can doubt his commitment to the job throughout his time as U21 Coach. He has done extremely well in qualifying for finals tournaments, but after the disappointment of the past two tournaments, we believe it is time to change Coach.”
The early favourite is Gareth Southgate, the former England international and Middlesbrough manager, who worked as FA head of elite development – overseeing changes in youth football – for 18 months before quitting last summer.
Southgate, who has a long-standing interest in youth development issues, made his opinions about the under-21s clear soon after he left the FA, and would likely impose a better style of play on the side.
Soon after leaving the FA, Southgate said that there should be serious coordination of football approaches between the different England teams. “I travelled to watch all of those teams play,” he told The Independent last September. “I think it’s important that those teams play with a particular style going forward and that the coaches of those teams interact and have the same philosophies, which then lead into the seniors.”
Pearce’s tenure as Under-21 manager was notable for a lack of tactical vision, as well as the dropping-off of results, with England failing to make it out of their group, or win a game, in either the 2011 or 2013 championships. Southgate, though, wants the Under-21s to pass the ball.
“What we should be looking to do as a country is to develop a national team that can control possession,” Southgate said last year. “When you’re first team manager it’s like at a club, you have to get results with the resources he has got. The development teams have got to develop players with the skills long-term to be able to adapt to whatever system the senior guy plays. We have got to develop players at the younger age-groups who could dictate a game in terms of possession.”
England left some of their eligible players at home this summer and Southgate believes that senior caps should not stop players from being taken to U-21 tournaments. “If a player has become a regular starter for the seniors, then I think the junior teams have probably done their job,” Southgate said last September. “If he is a player who is in the senior squad but he’s not playing then I think it’s invaluable for them to get experience of going to a tournament, it’s invaluable for them to get time on the field, playing international football.”