England set for Southgate - but he’s the wrong man

It’s hard not to get swept up in the way the English press covers football when you live here. It’s dramatic, thematic and downright entertaining.

Gareth Southgate

England's Interim manager Gareth Southgate Source: AFP

There’s a marvelous television show on Sky Sports every week called Sunday Supplement - a British version of the ABC's Offsiders, except it’s 90 minutes and just about football. Brilliant.

One of the occasional panelists, John Cross, of the Daily Mirror, is one of the better writers in the football business and whose knowledge of English football I wouldn’t dare question.

But when it came to last week’s discussion about the England job, he did let slip his thoughts on one of the candidates.

“Can you imagine Ralf Rangnick [as manager]? Without wanting to be patronising, the general England fan probably hasn’t heard of him,” he said.

“I know I certainly hadn’t heard of him until relatively recently, at least until he did remarkably well. I’ll admit that.”

Cross, like the rest of the panel, were eager to boost up Gareth Southgate. Just give him the job now, seemed to be the consensus.

There is no doubt Southgate has the makings of a fine manager one day. He is, according to reports in England, set to be offered the job this week and potentially handed a four-year contract to replace the disgraced Sam Allardyce.

At 46, he’s had sufficient time to get his knowledge in order. But he’s only ever coached one team - Middlesbrough - who he guided to a miserable 31.33 per cent winning rate over three years.

Granted, his time as coach of the under-21 setup has been far more fruitful, winning 27 of 34 matches. Excellent numbers by any measure.

But it should be remembered that England’s obsession with strong, physically dominant youth players remained undimmed and is a large factor in forcing victories at this level.

The bulk of those under-21 wins came in two pretty ordinary qualification groups. In 2015, for example, they faced Finland, Moldova, Wales, Lithuania and San Marino. This time? Norway, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unbeaten they may be, but it’s easy to see how the wins tumbled in.

If the 3-0 win over Scotland had the critics purring, the 2-2 draw with Spain last Tuesday had them demanding Southgate be given the job.

Few mentioned that it was basically Spain’s B team, but everyone in England loves the 'underdog' nature of a caretaker manager.

It would be cynical to say they don’t love Germans, but the fact that Rangnick is being mentioned in the same breath as Southgate, let alone as an inferior option, is scandalous.

If the Football Association were somehow able to lure Rangnick away from RB Leipzig, it would be seismic. Rangnick is one of the few men capable of transforming the English national team.

What he has done at Leipzig, and countless other clubs in the previous three decades, is quite remarkable. But it’s right now that you should be paying note - RB sit atop the German Bundesliga, three points clear of Bayern Munich, six points clear of Borussia Dortmund.

Rangnick, the sporting director, doesn’t coach the team each day - that’s Ralph Hasenhüttl’s job. But Rangnick is at almost every session, ensuring his philosophy is carried out. His eye for detail is exceptional.

When he waited for Hasenhüttl to become available last season - he wouldn’t quit his post at Ingolstadt - Rangnick took the reins of the team himself and duly won the promotion. Only then would Hasenhüttl agree to come.

Truth be told, things are going so well at Leipzig that Rangnick probably wouldn’t have left anyway - not before the end of the season. But like Guardiola at Manchester City, he would be worth the wait.

Rangnick is a confirmed Anglophile, speaks word-perfect English and both played and studied in England. He is clearly the right candidate for the job, regardless of what the media or public might think about another foreign appointment.

Indeed, when the FA do inevitably plump for Southgate, it will be proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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4 min read
Published 22 November 2016 at 9:12am
By Sebastian Hassett