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Gareth Southgate still fighting to prove his worth

It is easy to forget that Southgate initially declined the chance to take over as England manager when Sam Allardyce was sacked

England manager Gareth Southgate during the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton. Picture date: Tuesday June 14, 2022.© PA

Kevin PalmerSunday World

GARETH Southgate overcame the credibility crisis after taking over as England manager, but those first impressions are coming back to haunt him now.

It is easy to forget that Southgate initially declined the chance to take over as England manager when Sam Allardyce was sacked after being exposed in a newspaper sting that left his position untenable.

Southgate was a contender to take over from Roy Hodgson after England's miserable Euro 2016 campaign, but he made it clear to his bosses that he did not want to leave his role as under-21 boss for the senior role.

Allardyce was the somewhat controversial name hired to reboot England, with his one-game reign ending when he was caught on camera bragging about cash backhanders in transfers.

Southgate reluctantly stepped into the breach at that point and later admitted he was clear in his mind that he didn't want the full-time England role when it was first offered to him due to the pressure is placed on those who held the role and their family members.

"A few years ago I didn't want the job for that reason," he stated. "I saw what it did to previous managers and their families.

"So when my kids were younger, I didn't want them to experience that.

"When Sam Allardyce was appointed, I was under-21 coach and there to support him.

"I have said from the off I wasn't comfortable with the manner in which I took the reins, but I have enjoyed the responsibility.

"When you have success as England manager, it can be the best job in the world. "When things go wrong, it can be very difficult."

A CV that included relegation with Middlesbrough and little else in a coaching career that failed to lift off left many to suggest Southgate was out of his depth as England manager.

Yet a run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 and his success in guiding England to a first major final since 1966 at Euro 2020 saw him convert many of his doubters.

In a garish era when managers and players seem to be keen to promote themselves at every opportunity, Southgate's humble approach was appreciated by those who believe the manager should never be the star.

Yet while the former Crystal Palace defender has erased some of the pessimism that hovered over him back in 2016, the initial suspicion that he was not qualified to lead England to the ultimate success is being raised as he faces up to his first and possibly last crisis in the job.

England's form since their Euro 2020 heroics last year has been little short of awful, with a 4-0 home defeat against Hungary in June backed up by relegation from the UEFA Nations League after a 1-0 defeat against Italy on Friday night.

Tomorrow's home game against Germany is now a massive occasion for Southgate and while the FA are unlikely to sack him ahead of November's World Cup, his grip on power in the job appears to be loosening.

The scale of England's demise since their Euro 2020 heroics has been alarming and with a World Cup looming large, Southgate accepts his team's slump is badly timed.

Southgate, whose contract runs until the 2024 European Championship, is battling to find a solution to a leaking defence and a toothless attack that has failed to score a goal from open play in 495 minutes.

Worse still, there is precious little time to right the ship given Monday's match against Germany is their last game before their World Cup opener against Iran on November 21.

"Look, we are where we are in terms of the timing," added Southgate.

"We've got to do the best we can in terms of keeping the guys on track, but I maintain the reaction to what I say now will be guided by the result completely.

"But we weren't far off in terms of the performance tonight and I've got to keep the players believing in what they're doing and not being distracted and going into areas that actually aren't correct, so that's the task I've got at the moment."

The best managers find a way to extricate themselves from a crisis and this may be where Southgate comes up short.

His humble and measured approach has shown that the modern game still has a place for those who don't go out of their way to seek the spotlight.

Yet the suspicion that Southgate is a lower league manager mixing it with the giants of the game will come to the forefront once again now.

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