Southgate must be running out of patience with England players

Gareth Southgate has tried to steer England away from the strict, disciplinarian set-ups of previous reigns… but after in-camp bust-ups and now the Iceland hotel debacle, the Three Lions boss must be tiring of his players crossing the line

  • Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden were sent home from England duty this week  
  • But Gareth Southgate has had to deal with a handful of disciplinary issues of late
  • Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez clashed in the canteen and had to be separated
  • He backed Harry Maguire after his arrest in Greece but was forced into a U-turn
  • The England boss has strayed away from strict regime seen under Fabio Capello
  • After a string of negative headlines, he may be forced to change his strategy  

Managing the England national team can so often be a lose-lose situation. 

In one of the most pressurised jobs in football, nearly every supporter thinks they know who should be picked, who should play where and how someone should be dealt with if they step out of line. 

Discipline has been one of the biggest issues for the Three Lions in recent memory – too much or too little of it has been blamed for some major tournament exits. Now it’s emerged as a huge problem for Gareth Southgate after being forced to send home two of his brightest youngsters in Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden.

Gareth Southgate faces a decision on how he handles his squad after a series of debacles

He sent Mason Greenwood (left) and Phil Foden (right) home from England duty after the pair broke lockdown protocols by bringing girls back to the team hotel

He said both players were ‘naive’ and would have to accept receiving ‘judgment from afar’

He was let down by his starlets after they broke strict quarantine rules in the team hotel in Iceland by inviting two girls back, axing them from his squad to face Denmark. Both have apologised for their conduct, but the damage is done. 

Slowly but surely, Southgate is beginning to realise that however well he presents himself and copes with the strain of this role, it’s a principle that all of his players must take on board too. 

‘This is a job like no other in terms of the things you have to deal with,’ he said after the news broke. 

Southgate has one of the most pressurised jobs in football and has had to deal with a number of disciplinary issues 

‘In terms of what is expected, the players who have been with us a longer time know exactly what is expected – whenever people have stepped across that line we have dealt with it appropriately. 

‘The two boys are going to find themselves in a position where there will be lots of judgment of them from afar. They understand they have got this wrong. Our job is to get on with the game.’

Southgate has always tried to ease back on cracking the whip at St George’s Park, but has always been decisive when forced to act. Unfortunately, those moments have happened far more often than he would have liked. 

The squad was rocked by Raheem Sterling’s and Joe Gomez’s bust-up in the canteen last year 

Last November Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez brought their club rivalry with them to England duty after a scrap during Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City, with the winger grabbing the defender by the neck in the canteen.

The City star was swiftly dropped from the squad to face Montenegro, and he issued a full apology to the team and Gomez for his behaviour.

‘No journey of a team is ever going to be smooth and seamless,’ Southgate said when reflecting on his 2019 with England. 

‘I think those moments of difficulty are really where you find out about people and really you then have a chance as a group to react in one way or another.

‘You can either fold and things can fall apart a bit, or you can react in the right way.’

Swept under the rug, but not the last thing he has had to deal with. 

He sympathised with Kyle Walker after the right back broke lockdown rules to host a sex party 

It’s becoming clear that representing England is so much more than just being a role model on the pitch. In the last few months he has faced questions over Jack Grealish and Kyle Walker, who both broke lockdown restrictions, with the latter coming under fire for hosting a sex party.

The Manchester City defender claimed he had a heart-to-heart with Southgate, who told him ‘we all make mistakes’, but accepting responsibility and moving on doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. 

He spoke about ‘reacting in the right way’ and he took some of that advice for himself by backing Harry Maguire and selecting him in his recent England squad – despite being involved in a debacle on holiday in Mykonos, where he was accused of assaulting police and attempting to bribe his way out.

Centre back Harry Maguire was arrested in Greece after accusations of assault and bribery 

Southgate picked him for his squad before axing him after he was found guilty in Greece

Southgate was then forced into an embarrassing U-turn on his decision after a Greek court found him guilty on both accounts. The conviction has been nullified as part of an appeal that will involve a full retrial. The England boss put his trust in the United centre back and it backfired. 

It was the last thing he needed and it’s not like his players haven’t been warned about their conduct. Shortly after the Sterling-Gomez debacle, he had told his stars to be ‘high performance, low maintenance’ in the wake of James Maddison being spotted at a casino after withdrawing from a qualifier at Kosovo through illness – a rather minor offence in the grand scheme of things.  

When Southgate took over in 2016, he was seen as someone who would push the reset button after Sam Allardyce was forced to resign in shame having been secretly filmed advising on how to get past FA’s ban on third-party ownership. 

For too long, England had underwhelmed at major tournaments, from the directionless reign of Roy Hodgson to the disciplinarian era of Fabio Capello – when WAGs and tomato ketchup were strictly banned from camps.

Former England boss Fabio Capello introduced a strict regime for the 2010 World Cup, banning wives and revamping player diets

Under the Italian, playing for England was less than the dreamy experience many players envisaged as a child. 

‘You English eat too much bread,’ he told his backroom staff as they arrived for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. ‘If there is no butter, then the players won’t eat so much.’ It wasn’t just diet that Capello revamped, social life went out the window too. 

He installed his ‘ritiro’ system, with all wives and girlfriends banished and stars rarely given much to do outside training other than a rare trip to play golf or go on safari. Peter Crouch was even reprimanded for wearing a pair of slippers. 

Some players struggled in his ‘ritiro’ system with little to do inside the South Africa camp  

When Gareth Southgate took his players to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he allowed them more freedom and ensured they enjoyed the experience

He put Harry Kane and Co through a royal marines assault course to help the squad bond 

Fast forward eight years at Russia and Southgate had restored something more resembling a kids’ summer camp. 

Players were seen messing about on inflatable unicorns in the swimming pool, enjoying a game of basketball and playing table football in a bid to increase team spirit. It clearly did the trick as he inspired the team to their first semi-final in nearly 30 years.

He made it one of his first tasks to ensure his players bonded the year before they headed off to Russia by inducting the squad into a commando training session with the Royal Marines in Devon. 

After the latest fiasco, Southgate may be forced to rethink how he handles his group of players

Harry Kane and Co camped overnight and even crawled through an underwater tunnel as the boss tried to bring his stars together while toughening them up at the same time. 

Southgate has made a lot of effort to instill the right attitude and philosophy in his England players – more than any manager in recent memory. 

But with the latest shame of Greenwood and Foden, and the Euros looming next summer – England’s best chance at winning a trophy in decades – he might just decide that he can no longer be Mr Nice Guy. 

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