Time for Gareth Southgate to prove he has developed into an elite manager

If you had the time to read every one of Gareth Southgate’s 1,704 words in his open letter to the nation, Dear England, you could not help but be mightily impressed.

Plenty were, myself included.

Gary Lineker described it as “heartfelt, important and patriotic.”

And it was.

Tracey Crouch, the former sports minister who is now heading up a fan-led review of football, said it encapsulated everything she had ever thought abut him … “thoughtful, considerate, passionate, caring.”

And he is.

Which is brilliant. Southgate’s leadership qualities shone through the long missive and his explanation of why players and coaches should not just ‘stick to football’ hit the bullseye.

Jack Grealish appears to have convinced most people he should be an automatic England starter ... but Gareth Southgate might not be amongst the converted
Jack Grealish appears to have convinced most people he should be an automatic England starter … but Gareth Southgate might not be amongst the converted
(Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate,” Southgate wrote.

“I know my voice carries weight … I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice.”

Amen to all of that and good on this mightily impressive England manager for, unlike most of his predecessors, taking on a responsibility to the wider community.

He has proved himself a polished performer in front of the TV cameras and microphone but now Gareth Southgate needs to put in some landmark performances in the technical area
He has proved himself a polished performer in front of the TV cameras and microphone but now Gareth Southgate needs to put in some landmark performances in the technical area

Now, though, is he going to take on a responsibility to start Jack Grealish?

Sounds odd to jump from one to another but Southgate’s excellence as a leader, a figurehead, an orator, a father figure, a patriot, has long been established.

Over the next few weeks, he has the chance to prove he is a truly elite coach.

Because he is not there yet.

The run to the last four of the Word Cup three years ago was thrilling but England still lost three times at that tournament.

Leaving a wiped-out Harry Kane on the field for the 120 minutes against Croatia in the semi-final was a mistake.

England did well to reach the late stages of the 2019 Nations League but were outclassed by the Dutch.

Southgate has nothing to prove as a thoroughly decent bloke but plenty to prove as a top manager.

Ben White could be a surprise selection at Euro 2020
Ben White could be a surprise selection of Gareth Southgate goes with a back four and a man in form
(Image: PA)

This is his chance to do just that. There are two main conundrums he has to solve.

He has to come up with a defensive formula that will mask the sparseness of world-class talent in the central area and he has to find the best combination from a wealth of attacking talent.

Both are tricky tasks.

Can England win Euro 2020? Comment below

Defensively, a very bold move would be to play a back four and trust John Stones and the impressive Ben White together.

Two holding midfielders could provide a spot of insurance if Southgate thought it was needed, and he probably will think that.

There are then valid arguments for a whole host of midfield/attacking permutations.

But all of them should include Grealish.

Jack Grealish makes things happen on a football pitch
You don’t have to possess a UEFA coaching badge to know Jack Grealish makes things happen on a football pitch
(Image: The FA via Getty Images)

The Aston Villa man has got miles on the clock after his injury absence and was, overall, the best England player in the two warm-up games.

And Grealish simply makes things happen when in possession – surely even his sternest doubters have come to realise this.

Southgate has often come across as one of those doubters but to start with Grealish would show the sort of boldness Southgate brings to every other aspect of his England leadership.

So in response to that inspirational, weighty letter to us all, a brief reply.

Dear Gareth, please pick Jack. Thanks, England.

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