Gareth Southgate’s England team endeared themselves to the country with a string of joyous, entertaining performances in Russia at the World Cup. Their trajectory to the semi-finals captured the imagination of the nation, but how exactly do England go about building on the firm foundations at this tournament, and how will their achievements carry forward into the future?
Clear Identity and Formation
In the past, previous England managers have struggled to find a system which suits the personnel of the team. In his time in charge, Sven Goran-Eriksson adopted a conservative 4-4-2 formation in spite of arguably England’s greatest midfield players in a generation; Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes. So it was refreshing to see Southgate go for a bold 3-5-2 formation with sweeping wing-backs and midfielders able to express themselves. The system worked a treat, Kieran Trippier in particular impressing at wing-back alongside Jordan Henderson at the fulcrum of midfield.
All players bought into the system, even Kyle Walker in reluctantly relinquishing his preferred wing-back role. England’s experience now of playing this formation right throughout a tournament, not tweaking it depending on the opposition means the players have a direction and blueprint to follow. Combined with the players’ ultimate belief in Southgate and England should have a successful system to carry forward for many years to come.
Picking Players on Form Not Prestige
Similarly, in the past England managers have been culpable of picking too many players based on prestige rather than form. This even extends beyond England; we saw the pitfalls Joachim Low’s Germany plummeted into during the tournament with this approach. Joe Hart, despite boasting 75 caps for the national team, had endured two difficult loan spells with Torino and West Ham; therefore Nick Pope deservedly claimed his place in England’s goalkeeping contingent. Likewise, Southgate was quick to leave Wayne Rooney, England’s all-time top scorer and former captain, out of the team long before England’s trip to Russia.
Subsequently this carries weight. If players can perform at a high-level for their club teams, there is a good probability they will feature in England squads in the future. Momentum is such a fundamental part of a football and we saw how England rode a wave on the way to the semi-finals. Each and every aspiring England footballer will be motivated to perform as well as they can for their clubs and carry that good form into the national team.
Youthful, Ambitious Team
While England’s journey to the semi-finals of the World Cup was largely unexpected, the heartbreak of losing out to Croatia in extra-time should fuel the appetite of England players to go even further at future tournaments.
Southgate chose a youthful 23-man squad for the tournament, the likes of Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford remarkably playing in their second major competitions for England. Not long ago Alli was playing for MK Dons in League One with Rashford plying his trade in the youth set-up at Manchester United. Through his work with the under-21s, Southgate is trying to sculpt a new-look England in every facet of the game, and that starts with promoting young stars. The stories of Alli and Rashford should serve as inspiration to England’s evolving pool of talent in the youth ranks – the U17s and U20s both World Cup winners of course.
Team Ethic and Mentality
Tournament football can be very demanding and consuming, England being haunted in the past by player boredom, so it is imperative that a feel-good factor and team spirit is implemented in the squad. Southgate managed to achieve that at the World Cup, all players working tirelessly for one another, and is key in progressing to the deep stages of a tournament. Whether that be racing each other on inflatable unicorns in the swimming pool or challenging each other on the popular video game Fortnite as we have seen, positivity and collective strength can go a long way.
Working on Weaknesses
Of course, England’s campaign was not perfect. Despite landmark achievements such as the 6-1 crushing of Panama or the nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia, there were elements at the tournament that England must take away and work on. England reaped uncharted reward with excellent set-pieces at the World Cup, although the team struggled to engineer openings in open play. These will inevitably need to be worked on, and will define England’s progress come 2020 and 2022.
But England have done us proud as a nation. We now feel more connected and immersed with the team as we perhaps have never done before. And in Gareth Southgate as manager, we have a man we can trust to lead the team forward. England will hope their achievements in Russia this summer is only the beginning.