It must have been pretty difficult to start doubting Sir Alf Ramsey.
After all, Sir Alf had won the World Cup with England. He’d created a tactical style that (somehow) saw England beat all-comers in 1966 and end up jigging around Wembley with the Jules Rimet aloft.
Yet, even Sir Alf’s time had to come to an end – and there will have been many a newspaper hack only too pleased to start up the engine on that bandwagon and invite people to jump on.
And he’d won something.
Fast forward far too many years and the current incumbent is Gareth ‘Gary’ Southgate. Southgate didn’t even really want the job in the first place, don’t forget, and here we are approaching four years to the day since he took over from big Sham Allafarce.
Don’t get me wrong, Southgate was alright at one point – back threes, waistcoats, World Cup semi finals. I thought things might continue to progress in a positive vain.
Hell, we even did OK in the Nations League the first time round.
And then it arrived. This sodding obsession with 3-4-3.
Now, you’d think playing a 3-4-3 you’d struggle to get one traditional right back into the side, no? Not Southgate, he’s managed to fit a minimum of three in pretty much each time England take to the field.
Whether it’s Kyle Walker, Trent and Trippier all playing slightly out of position or whether Reece James is nearly completing a shift before knocking off early, Southgate is determined to get as many right-backs into a starting XI as is humanly possible – though, if he really wanted to be clever he could switch Trent to central midfield and give Tariq Lamptey a go. Actually, hold that thought – I quite like it.
Is it Southgate’s fault we have a lack of quality right-sided central defenders or left-backs at the moment? Can he be blamed for there being a plentiful supply of English Cafus? Well, probably not but as my Gran used to say, ‘just because the plate is full of chocolate digestives doesn’t mean you have to eat all of them’.
And then there’s this whole defensive midfielder thing – Southgate seems to believe that if you are playing 3-4-3 then you are only allowed to select midfielders in the middle who are massively defensive-minded and grew up looking to the passing range of Ray Wilkins as their inspiration. If Declan Rice is the talent from the famous West Ham Academy then that says a lot about West Ham’s Academy in the modern-day. Kalvin Phillips might actually be a very good England player-in-waiting but we may never find out if Southgate insists in playing him in a role he doesn’t perform for Leeds.
As for Jordan Henderson, well – let’s just say there were more talented Liverpool players than he who were unable to bring their club form with them on international duty.
The crazy thing was, especially against Belgium, that Southgate picked one of the most creative midfield players England have in their armoury in Mason Mount – and then stuck him out wide. Roll back the years and you can see Glenn Hoddle and Paul Scholes forced get chalk on their boots, craving for the freedom to play a free role from the middle.
Let’s be honest – Southgate was winning us over because he’s a nice guy with a great work ethic and had control of the morals of the team. None of us rated him tactically – even in that World Cup run of 2018 England were shown up any time they played a team with actual ability.
And now, he’s unfortunately seeing the moral compass of the squad evaporate each time they get together.
So this week’s ‘Wally of the Week’ is Gareth Southgate – get back to 4-3-3, don’t pick more than one right-back or one defensive midfielder at a time and please, please, please drop Harry Maguire until he has remembered how to play football.