If Southgate wins Euro, everything will be forgotten: Stimac

Gareth Southgate in frame. (PC: X.com)

Acerbic punditry has been part of English football. The late Brian Clough, the legendary former Nottingham Forest manager, was the master of it. The likes of Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer are continuing with it. Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is in the line of fire.

Pundits, fans and a section of the British media seemingly want Southgate to channel his inner Rinus Michels and make England play like the Holland team of the 1974 World Cup or Tele Santana’s Brazil at the 1982 World Cup. Simple wins don’t satisfy them, notwithstanding the fact that England are in the quarter-finals of the ongoing Euro. Three more victories and they will lift the trophy. But the pundits are fanning the negativity, while England fans are falling out of love with Southgate.

Sample this… “God, it was so stressful watching it, wasn’t it,” Lineker said on the Rest Is Football podcast after England’s Round of 16 game against Slovakia. “There was one point where Alan (Shearer) was so exasperated that he got up out of his chair.”

Shearer chipped in: “It was desperation. It was desperate. They were so bad, it was untrue. I was thinking Iceland, 2016, was it? 2016 all over again, with much better players. It was that bad.”

Jude Bellingham’s worldie on 95 minutes rescued England from the edge of the precipice against Slovakia. Harry Kane’s extra-time header secured a 2-1 win. To put things in perspective though, England were dominant for the entire duration of the second-half, had a goal disallowed for offside and had one Declan Rice shot ricocheting off the woodwork.

But the post-game analysis had very little mention of England’s second-half dominance, that they were clearly the better team and at the end, deserved their win. Also, Southgate should be credited for the fact that he kept Bellingham and Kane on the pitch despite both having a poor game. The manager trusted his players and they delivered. It was good management.

Lineker and Shearer are England legends in their own right, but the way they have been targeting Southgate, it feels like the two former strikers have won multiple World Cups and Euros. The fact of the matter is that England haven’t won anything since 1966, when they lifted the World Cup under Sir Alf Ramsey. What Southgate has achieved so far – a World Cup semi-final, a Euro final and seven wins out of his 11 major knockout games – is almost on a par with Ramsey. The ultimate glory has remained elusive, but England are still one of the favourites to win the ongoing Euro.

Igor Stimac, the former Indian football team head coach, knows English football inside out. A Derby County legend, he is aware of the excesses from the British football pundits and the press. “Lineker and Shearer were part of the England teams that had better players compared to the present squad. But as a team, they did much less than what Southgate has achieved,” Stimac said, speaking to RevSportz.

“I agree that England can and should do better on the pitch. But the real bone of contention is the style of play. At the same time, you must also recognise his (Southgate) results. If he wins the tournament (Euro), everything will be forgotten,” said Stimac.

Isn’t the entertainment aspect in football, especially in tournament football, overrated? For example, Holland didn’t win the 1974 World Cup. Zico and Socrates’ Brazil were knocked out by Italy in the 1982 edition of the tournament. Ultimately, it’s about winning games, doesn’t matter if a team is winning ugly.

Stimac agreed. “Yes, eventually, it’s about winning or losing. Who cares that we (India) played a great game against Qatar (in the World Cup qualifiers). It’s about the results.”

Southgate has lifted England from the nadir of the Euro 2016, when they were knocked out by Iceland. He made playing for England fun again. The players like and respect him. His man management is top-class. Yes, his in-game management sometimes can be questionable, like the 2022 World Cup quarter-final against France. But overall, his time as England manager has been a big positive.

Southgate deserves respect.