Meet The New Boss?

by Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

If Erik ten Hag thought a stirring victory against Liverpool last weekend and then the international break would make his hotseat a little cooler, he got a rude awakening this week.

England manager Gareth Southgate became the latest gaffer linked to the non-vacant United job.

“I am the England manager. I have got one job basically, to try and deliver a European Championship,” he said prior to England’s listless 1-0 defeat to Brazil at Wembley. “The second thing is Manchester United have a manager, and I think it is always completely disrespectful when there is any speculation about a manager that is in place.”

But that’s exactly the kind of thing one would, and I think that’s what should say if they were getting the job, right?

Southgate isn’t the first English national team manager linked to United in recent years. Sven-Göran Eriksson signed a contract to replace a retiring Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002 that would have taken effect after the World Cup that year. However. Ferguson ultimately decided against retirement, which voided Eriksson’s deal.

United has also been linked to Fabio Capello, both before and during his England tenure (some claim he, not Eriksson, was set to replace Ferguson in 2002).

On the one hand, it’s understandable why United would be interested in England national team managers. If any seat is hotter than the one at United, it’s the one for England. If someone can survive the latter, then the former should be a piece of cake, right?

And Southgate has been the most successful England manager in decades — arguably of all time after Alf Ramsey, who won the 1966 World Cup. Under Southgate’s tenure, England made it to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and were a penalty shootout away from winning the 2021 Euros. After the 2018 World Cup, England even temporarily renamed Southgate Station in his honor for a couple of days. There was even talk of making him UK Prime Minister, although given how unstable that job has been over the last few years, Southgate would be better off managing United. If he were to win the upcoming Euros, he’d probably become Sir Gareth Southgate.

So hiring The Right Honourable Sir Gareth Southgate MBE should be a no-brainer right? Not so fast….

International football isn’t necessarily known for tactical innovation, due to the lack of matches and the fact that players usually come from many different teams and systems. Even under those standards, Southgate isn’t known as a great tactician or in-game manager. He sets up his team based on the opposition and makes questionable selections, often relying on out-of-form players because of their reputations or track records (Harry Maguire, for instance).

Instead, his best qualities are as a man-manager and media handler. Admirably, he always takes responsibility for bad results and does his best to protect his players. He defended Maguire when the center half was being criticized left and right for his lack of form, and admirably stood up to racist trolls after they attacked Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka for missing penalties against Italy in the Euro final.

Perhaps in part because of the tone he’s set as manager, he’s managed to forge a fairly unified and harmonious squad — a marked departure from previous English teams, which were rife with division as well as personal and professional animosity.

Then again, it’s possible that any manager would have a fairly unified squad at his disposal and Southgate was just lucky that it happened on his watch. Most of these players are already friends and follow each other on social media. And unlike some of those 90s and 00s teams, this squad isn’t dominated by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea — three bitter rivals who often saw each other more as competitors than colleagues.

Another area where Southgate got lucky was being in the right place at the right time when England came calling. After a poor run as Middlesbrough manager, during which he got relegated in the 2008-09 season, Southgate spent four years out of management before landing a job as manager of England’s U-21 team.

After an up-and-down tenure, he inherited the senior team job on a caretaker basis when Sam Allerdyce got sacked after a couple of months. He was given the job on a full time basis shortly afterwards and has been there since.

He’s also fortunate in that he has friends in high places at United — namely incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth and Sir David Brailsford, Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s right hand man. According to iNews, Ashworth and Southgate worked together at the FA and helped develop the culture within the English team setup that has yielded such good recent results. United could certainly use some of that togetherness and harmony.

Nevertheless United supporters didn’t seem too impressed at the links to Southgate. Questions over his tactical nous and club record were at the top of the list. Is Southgate really any good? Or is he just lucky?

Additionally, United fans have long had a complicated history with the English national team. Part of it was the often adversarial relationship between Sir Alex Ferguson and the FA. Ferguson made it clear to his players he expected them to put United first and often tried to get his players out of international duty.

The other was that United fans, especially those in England, felt their players often got the short end of the stick when it came to the national team. These were the people who never called up Steve Bruce and rarely capped Gary Pallister, even though they were two of the best defenders in the league. These were the folks who hung David Beckham out to dry after his 1998 red card against Argentina. These were the ones who refused to play Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick in their preferred positions because Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were treated as sacred cows. And these were the people who backed John Terry over Rio Ferdinand, even when the former was accused of making racist comments towards the latter’s brother.

That doesn’t even include the fans, who would often start anti-United chants at England matches and booed the likes of Gary and Phil Neville just for existing. Or how they booed Cristiano Ronaldo after the 2006 World Cup after he supposedly got Wayne Rooney red carded even though Rooney fully deserved to get sent off for stomping on Ricardo Carvalho.

According to The Athletic, United fans even started rooting for the Argentine national team in the late 90s as a way of trolling England fans (which is ironic, considering what happened to Beckham). It helped that some Argentines became fan favorites while at United, most recently Lisandro Martinez and Alejandro Garnacho.

So it’s odd that United would be so fixated on England managers. At least Capello and Eriksson were proven winners at the club level. Southgate is still a relative novice and hasn’t managed a club since that disastrous stint at Middlesbrough.

Plus, he would not represent a tactical upgrade over ten Hag. If Southgate can bring in a smart, innovative assistant who can handle the X’s and O’s, then it could work.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if, by this time next year, we’re linked to the next hot name in management. Maybe whoever the next England manager is…

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