Gareth Southgate is in a constant battle with the English delusion | England

WWelcome to the account. The world’s sport has spent most of the past two years experiencing flight delays, confused by bubbles and fires, due to dates that aren’t actually dates, and events that seem to happen on the wrong schedule. Well, here comes the central point: Qatar 2022, the non-negotiable point, the fixed point this camouflage case is all about.

Check the watch in your pocket, it’s still set to Standard Tournament Time, which is actually April now. The World Cup – cabin crew and landing seats – is less than two months away. The competition kicks off this week with a round of Nations League matches, the first steps towards the final in Doha on December 18. At the end of the season, with red and nervous eyes, the season is free to return through arrivals and straight into the Christmas fixture menu.

For England, this round kicks off Friday night against Italy in Milan, followed by Germany’s visit to Wembley three days later. It is a delicious-looking double head, and an unusually urgent prospect on two fronts. First, as the last chance to iron out staff and tactics questions ahead of the World Cup, many people, or at least many Englishmen, seem to think Gareth Southgate’s side should be among the favorites to win.

And second, this is the beginning of a broader account of Gareth’s age. It’s been six years now, spanning around only two tournaments, one of which is a plague-infested plastic thing that started with nonsense and ended with toxic waste.

at that time England The team has been reimagined, and upgraded to unprecedented levels of achievement (without the trophy); But he also suffers from a strange sense of anger and dissatisfaction. The next 12 weeks may decide which way this thing will go. Southgate said it wouldn’t take him long. And it’s always a little later than you think.

At this point, it’s time to get rid of some familiar, reassuring questions. Basically, is England really that good? What should we reasonably expect – this key word – from this team? And how distracting is the noise (because there is always noise) around it? The answers are always linked. On Tuesday morning, a national radio station was already wondering if anything less than a World Cup win should be considered a failure for England, who have won one championship in 72 years of trying. Hmmm. Good question. Let’s break that down, we Arabs.

Bobby Moore lifts the 1966 World Cup: England’s only victory in the tournament in 72 years of trying. Photo: PA

Indeed, England could reach the quarter-finals, with nothing more than that bonus. But two things have to happen to make this work. First, they have to eliminate ambient noise. This is at least familiar territory. In many ways, Southgate’s time was defined by the ongoing battle with English delusion, English exceptionalism, and the self-sabotage of unrealistic English expectations.

He actually won this battle once using his best trick, the ability to turn weaknesses into strengths. This is true on a tactical level. The England squad he inherited could not hold the ball and were weak in the middle of defence. Solution: Play seven defensive players, keep the ball deep in that rump, and it becomes harder to break through.

The same has been achieved, and most importantly, in the world of feelings, feelings, and energy. England’s inherited Southgate was also arrogant and fragile. By the time Russia 2018, he had a team with outstanding humility and performance. We are the most humble. Look at our humility and our trembling, because we are England, really exceptional in our lack of exceptionalism. Worked too. The players did not feel any pressure. The nation triumphantly embraced its lack of victory.

Naturally, the English delusion bumped into this as well. The thinking seems to be: Because now we’re so good, we have to be the best of course. The success of others is basically an aberration, a departure from some state of Arthur’s grace. So the fact that England had such good players translated into an “unstoppable hand of golden talent”. The rare success in reaching the Euro 2020 final has become an inexcusable failure to fail to win the Euro 2020 final.

As always, this comes down to questions of size. England can beat Italy and Germany this week. But they are also at the bottom of the Nations League group without a goal from open play. At the same time, the idea of ​​u200bu200bthe generation of talents, which the whole of Europe is the envy of, does not hold. Harry Kane is England’s best player, fifth in the world rankings, but with a difference from the elite Mbappe and Lewandowski. Raheem Sterling, Southgate’s second most effective offensive weapon, left Manchester City to start more.

None of the England goalkeepers play in the Champions League. Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka are really good young players, but they are unlikely to inspire feelings of outright horror in countries with a wide hand of talented attackers. What other elite international teams might consider Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw to start with?

In addition, of course, in a strong blow to the national psyche, there are other countries. The struggle to address this fact is in many ways the crucial battleground for English football, and indeed for English culture in general. A difference is only looking at the level above. Brazil has lost once since the start of 2020. France and Germany are strong. Do England, as is right, expect to beat Belgium, Portugal, Spain or Argentina?

Declan Rice responded to England's defeat in the Euro 2020 final.
Declan Rice responded to England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final. The rare success in reaching the final has become the unforgivable failure of a win. Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

There is of course an advertising reproductive component to this loss of scale, and it is a personal animosity behind the desire to speak of Southgate’s strong accomplishments as England manager. Many simply do not like his policies, his method and his tactical caution. But Southgate has its flaws, too. There was a lack of development, and a feeling that other teams had learned how to fight England’s simple game plan.

Every major defeat in his six years – Croatia, Holland and Italy (on penalties) – has come as a result of superior maneuvering and late supremacy in tight knockout matches, with the best midfield winning. The real point of development here was getting ready to start the more progressive Judd Bellingham. But Bellingham is also 19 years old. Aziz lost my 4-3-3 lead 4-0 to Hungary last time.

It looks almost certain that Southgate will fall back into his comfort zone now, in football for control and minute detail. England need to win this week, or at least avoid defeat, because the win was difficult. They mainly need to create energy, to feel good, to find the degree of missionary enthusiasm.

Trust the process. From this distance, it’s the only one we’ll get. It is worth saying again. England have reached the semi-finals five times in 72 years, two of them (two out of two) under Southgate. Whatever the current jet lag behind air travel ends up being, those accomplishments will remain.