Following England’s draw with the United States in their second Group B fixture, there were immediate calls for head coach Gareth Southgate to be sacked mid-tournament. Admittedly, it was a poor performance from the Three Lions that once again suggested that winning the World Cup would be a bridge too far for England in 2022.
Unsurprisingly, England’s World Cup title odds rose sharply to +900 following the stalemate with the US which, again, was a telling indicator of how much this team has to overcome to go all the way in the Middle East. Instead, the 2022 World Cup predictions favor Brazil and France as the teams to win the tournament in Qatar. Naturally, these predictions are a bitter pill to swallow for England fans who would have hoped after reaching the last four during the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and then making it to the final of Euro 2020, that the team would have gone one further in 2022.
It does look for all intents and purposes, however, that this particular England side has come as far as they can under Southgate but that is more likely to be down to the fact that the 52-year-old has been in charge since 2016 rather than being tactically inept. Put another way, England needs a new set of fresh ideas to sweep through the corridors of St George’s Park after six years of Southgate’s tenure.
However, with all the criticism leveled at Southgate for being out of his depth during his time on the international scene, there is a debate to be had about whether international managers need to be master tacticians or purely good man managers.
The reality of international management
To begin with, the inescapable truth is that there are far more astute managers working at club level than there are at international level. The reason for this is simple when you take into account that clubs play significantly more which is why the best minds in the business are employed domestically. In essence, the brightest managers are wasted at international level given the long break between fixtures whereas, at club level, you have the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp taking on different assignments every two to three days.
Did the USMNT “expose” Gareth Southgate? 👀 pic.twitter.com/t00K8XgcQT— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 25, 2022
Ultimately, this long gap between games is the reason why international teams are coached by managers that haven’t necessarily enjoyed glittering careers in the dugout up until being hired. Southgate for instance was fired by Middlesbrough whilst the most prestigious job that Wales’ manager Rob Page had before taking over was as head coach of Northampton Town.
Crucially, that’s not to say that these managers struggle tactically, but that they are able to land these jobs due to the most astute managers being in work already at club level. Having said that, most international managers directly benefit from the coaching that is done at domestic level by the world’s best tacticians so do they instead have to be proficient rather in keeping harmony in the dressing room and staying out of the way of the country’s best players?
Of course, a credible formation and a clear outline of tactics still need to be applied but many would argue that the hardest job of international management is, in actual fact, building a steady team environment. After all, getting players to gel, who for the majority of their careers have been playing against each other amidst ongoing bitter club rivalries, is a task that has seen supposedly tactically superior international managers come unstuck when the pressure is turned up on the biggest stage.
Be careful what you wish for
Indeed, for all of Hansi Flick’s extraordinary success at Bayern Munich which saw the 57-year-old win seven trophies in just 86 matches, there have been rumors of mutiny in the German dressing room at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as the country were bottom of the table after two games. Again, this is an unfolding example of the minefield that is international management and why the world may have got it wrong in terms of what it takes to succeed at this level.
Germany have only won one World Cup game since the 2014 final 😕 pic.twitter.com/adAUBTPuOs— GOAL (@goal) November 28, 2022
In many instances, fans have to be careful what they wish given that international management is an art that lends itself to the quieter and perhaps even vanilla personalities thriving.
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