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England: How Gareth Southgate can transfer youth team success to the seniors

After an average start as England boss, we look at how Gareth Southgate could reignite English football.

It’s safe to say that as a whole, this summer has been successful for the England youth teams. Whilst the U20s were winning the World Cup, the effective ‘B-Team’ of that age group retained the Toulon Tournament title.

A couple of weeks ago, the U21s were not quite as successful, losing to Germany on penalties in the European Championship semi-final. The full side were poor over the summer too, only drawing to Scotland and losing 3-2 to France in a friendly. The U19s, moreover, won the European Championship final with a 2-1 victory over Portugal.

The success of these players is brilliant, but why does it all go wrong when the players get to the U21s or, for some, the full international side?

Managerial issues at U21 level

For the U21s, a huge part of the problem is the manager, Aidy Boothroyd. Having watched the U21s in the Euros, it was plain to see that the manager is tactically incompetent. He made reckless decisions and stupid substitutions in the semi-final match against Germany, risking England’s place in the competition even during the regular 90 minutes.

The formation didn’t work, and the Young Lions were sitting far too deep, but Boothroyd made alterations which still didn’t solve the issues. Almost every fan could see what was going wrong, yet somehow, he and his coaching staff could not.

New success in a 3-4-3

Now, I wouldn’t go as far as arguing that Gareth Southgate is completely incompetent with regards to tactics, but he sometimes insists on changing too many things too quickly. Look back to one of Southgate’s first games in charge (post-interim spell).

England played Germany in Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion and employed a three at the back formation, with four in midfield and two inside forwards playing just off of the lone striker.


The formation did wonders for England that night. Even though the Three Lions lost, it instilled a confidence and hope back into fans who hadn’t had that sort of belief since the so-called “Golden Generation”. Why they could never deliver on the international stage, I have no idea, but it was before my time really.

On that night in Germany, England were absolutely superb. They outplayed Germany for almost the entire 90 minutes, and should have won the game comfortably in all honesty. However, that was not the case as a Lukas Podolski thunderbolt (in his final international appearance) ensured that the Germans took the win in the friendly match.

Southgate’s men looked well-organised for the most part, worked well together and trusted each other on the ball. The inclusion of Jake Livermore actually turned out to be a justified one after he was one of England’s better players that night.

Was Southgate the right choice?

The thing that baffled most, though, was that England then had another game a few days later, but Southgate reverted to a 4-2-3-1/ 4-3-3. Yes, England did beat Lithuania 2-0, but I believe that it would’ve been more had a 3-4-2-1 formation been employed.

More and more Premier League teams have started playing with a three at the back set up due to Chelsea’s success, and this would have also helped English players to adapt more quickly, and could have furthered England’s performances in qualifiers where they have been poor of late.

Results have been average at best under Southgate in truth, and he was not the right man for the job at the start. The FA took the easy option again, when a risk should’ve been taken by appointing someone like Eddie Howe.

Not only does Howe get the best out of some mediocre players in fairness, he tries to play an attractive style of football, which more often than not comes with results if you have better players at your disposal.

Creating an English legacy

To create a legacy though, Southgate should return to the three at the back formation. With the likes of Michael Keane around him, there is, at times, room for John Stones in a 3-4-2-1 where he can be a ball-playing centre-back.

He does have to make changes though. Joe Hart cannot continue to be England number one. He, again, showed his error proneness against Scotland, conceding two late Leigh Griffiths free-kicks mainly due to his poor initial positioning.

He also needs to pick a new captain, although it is hard to pick a leader from this side. For me, Kane isn’t the right choice, as the pressures of captaincy could have a detrimental effect on the form of the player who is arguably our best.

However, the question is then: who else is ready to do it? Seemingly no one. Whilst James Ward-Prowse captained the U21s in the Euros, he is too young to be captain of the senior side realistically and needs to nail down a place in the full squad first, which he is more than capable of doing.

Youngsters need their chance

Southgate does also need the help of Premier League managers. All too often talents are wasted from the U20s downwards as they don’t get to play at their clubs and therefore don’t break into the full national squad.

These players from the current U20s will have a winning mentality, which we should aim to be carrying through to the full team. Admittedly, not all of the players will realise their potential, but how will we know if they never get a chance to?

Carrying through a winning mentality from some players puts an extra boost into the squad. Tournaments are different at youth levels obviously, but they still had to work hard to do it. 

Southgate needs to work with Premier League managers of all clubs to try to get these youngsters chances at elite level, no matter how many arguments or conflicts it results in.

How can Southgate ignite English national football? Should he stick with a three-man defence? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Lucas Ball

Based in Kent, writing about football, cricket and field hockey predominantly.

Support Millwall and play field hockey for Holcombe.

Interested in a variety of other sports.

16 years old

England: How Gareth Southgate can transfer youth team success to the seniors

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