The reality facing England – the Southgate team has passed its best

ENGLAND’s recent results are an indication that change is needed, not necessarily in the management of the team, but in the composition of the squad and reassessment of the team that has served Gareth Southgate well. It is no coincidence that the sudden awareness that deterioration appears to have set in has come not when England are playing flat-track bullies against Europe’s makeweights and pretenders, it is in the UEFA Nations League. Traditionally, England don’t fare too well against Italy and Germany, but if you want evidence of worrying signs, it has to be in the games against Hungary.

The country that gave us Ferenc Puskás, Ferenc Bene and Flórián Albert has a reputation that is far removed from reality, but they beat England 4-0 and 1-0 in the Nations League. Since the Euro 2020 final in 2021, England have played the Magyars four times and the scorelines relect the steady decline of Southgate’s England: W4-0, D1-1, L0-1, L0-4.

There is a theory England’s morale was crushed by their defeat on penalties in the European Championship final against Italy, but they are professionals, they move on. What is becoming more and more obvious is that the Southgate side of 2018 to 2021 peaked in EURO 2020 and the World Cup semi-final and Euro final represented the culmination of its progress and achievements. It wasn’t the start of something, it was the end.

England’s form since that night at Wembley has been inconsistent if you look at it as whole, but if you consider the past season, it is remarkably bad. They have won seven of 14 games since June 2021 and have scored fewer goals (27) than any of the top 10 contenders for the World Cup bar Spain. While Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands are unbeaten in that 14-game period,  England have lost three times.

Their current run is five games without a win, the worst since the 1992-93 season, although not as bad as the 1980-81 campaign when England went eight games without a victory. But in today’s currency, five games could be enough to get a coach the sack, although it is unlikely Southgate will suffer that indignity. Most England managers resign, either by design or in a loaded pistol in a quiet room scenario. Southgate will surely leave the job after the 2022 World Cup.

Results since the start of 2021-22

 PWDLFAWin %
Brazil14113033479
Argentina14113029379
Netherlands141040401371
Portugal14102233771
Denmark141004281271
Germany1494142964
Belgium14932351564
Spain14923261164
France14842311157
England14743271050

England’s renaissance began with Southgate’s appointment and he was fortunate to have some promising talent to call on, notably Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City players. Naturally, the likes of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane carried the hopes of the nation, but neither reached the level of some of their opposite numbers around Europe. And in time, we may look back on Dele Alli as one of the greatest unfulfilled talents in an England shirt. We may look upon this squad as something of a silver generation.

Kane is a great goalscorer, but he’s rarely compared to players like Robert Lewandowski or Kylian Mbappé, while Sterling has moved on from City to Chelsea in order to reassert himself. Ask yourself who are England’s most important players today, for it does look as though the conveyor belt of talent dried up for now? The side that lost to Italy in the Nations League included eight who had featured in the Euro 2020 final. There’s rich potential in the form of Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, but there’s promise in every under-21 team that often doesn’t develop to fruition. England’s squad suddenly has the look of a group of players that have possibilities but there is no cast-iron guarantee it will go beyond that.

Without the goals of Kane, England are very blunt, as the recent tally has shown. Certainly some of the forwards being touted as England material suggest Southgate has no natural stand-in for the Tottenham talisman should he get injured. There are other concerns, such as the continued use of Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, who hasn’t been the same since his holiday incident. There is not finer header in the stopper sense of the word, but in the modern game, surely an England team needs a more dynamic central defender?

Sadly, the realisation that the England team of 2018-21 is in need of surgery comes with the World Cup just a couple of months away. There is really no time to reshape the team or the squad, so Southgate will have to reinvigorate his players to try and rekindle the spirit of those years. The facts cannot be ignored, though – this England team has limited mileage left and the past 15 months should have been recognised as a period of replenishment after two near misses in major competitions.

Denmark: The big guns are troubled but the horses from Randers are happy

THERE’S a new name at the top of Danish football at the moment in the form of Randers FC from East Jutland, a club that has never before been champions of Denmark. Randers assumed the license of the old Randers Freja club that won the Danish Cup three times and reached the last eight of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1968-69. Formed in 2003, Randers once had former England defender Colin Todd as their chief coach.

Randers are leading the Superliga and are unbeaten in their first 10 games. They’re from a town of around 60,000 people, so crowds of 5,500 represent a reasonable percentage of the local population. In a season where two of the modern heavyweights of the Danish game, FC Copenhagen and Midtjylland, have got off to less than perfect starts, Randers have taken advantage to head the table. Whether they can remain in front is a matter of great debate, but they have a side that is difficult to beat with a strong defence and an outstanding goalkeeper in Patrik Carlgren, a 30 year-old Swede. Randers also have some promising players who are enjoying themselves at the moment, notably the Norwegian midfielder Lasse Berg Johnson, who has been in fine form.

FC Copenhagen have been a major disappointment this season and have lost six of their 10 league games. They qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and have a tough fixture list that includes Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Manchester City. They were beaten 3-0 in Dortmund and were held 0-0 by Sevilla in the Danish capital. But a series of defeats cost coach Jess Thorup his job.

The 52 year-old was a popular figure, but the team he left behind lost more Superliga games in the opening weeks than they suffered in the whole of 2021-22. They were also beaten at home 3-1 by Randers, a game that underlined that the balance of power was shifting in Denmark. FC Copenhagen, despite discarding their man, were full of praise for Thorup: “We must offer a big thank you to Jess for his exemplary work, not least in connection with the major transformation that FCK has gone through over the past few years. With Jess the club has succeeded in winning a Danish championship and securing the first qualification for the UEFA Champions League group stage since 2016.” Jacob Neestrup, the club’s assistant coach has taken over from Thorup.

Equally, FC Midtjylland have not been at their absolute best and are languishing in seventh place. They are currently playing in the Europa League and recently thrashed Lazio 5-1 in Denmark. But in the Superliga, their form has been patchy although they beat FC Copenhagen 2-1 in a game that proved to be Thorup’s last in charge of the reigning champions.

Brøndby, who have struggled to keep pace with the financial power of FCK and Midtjylland, look like they are on the verge of being taken over. The club, which is listed on the stock market, saw its share price rise on rumours that US businessman David Blitzer, who has investments in other clubs such as Crystal Palace, Augsburg and ADO Den Haag, was looking to buy a major stake in the 11-times champions. Some fans are not happy about the prospect, as Blitzer is a senior executive at private equity firm Blackstone. He’s also been trying to buy a stake in France’s Saint-Étienne. The fan group Alpha believes that Blitzer, effectively a multi-club owner, would not be compatible with Brøndby.

However, there are some football followers who believe Brøndby actually need fresh investment and that in acquiring some of chairman Jan Bech Andersen’s 54.6% holding, Blitzer can move the club up a gear to become more competitive. At present, the club relies on selling talent into the market to generate income and lacks the muscle of some of its rivals. They recently changed their approach of only signing talent under the age of 27 and bought 33 year-old Daniel Wass from Atlético Madrid as well as other more mature players. Brøndby won the Superliga in 2021, but it was their first title since 2005.

Alpha have written to Andersen to urge him not to sell to Blitzer: “Brøndby IF must be owned, run and loved by people who respect the club’s DNA and have Brøndby IF as their first and only priority.” After the international break, the Superliga programme resumes, by which time, Brøndby’s future may be clearer.