It was former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who famously remarked that it was ‘events, dear boy, events’ when asked what was most likely to blow governments off course.
The same rationale can probably apply to international football managers, who need luck heading into major tournaments.
Southgate’s mood, understandably, was a touch downbeat after England’s 1-0 friendly victory over Austria at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, a win which felt hollow and was marred by an injury scare for Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who limped off with a thigh problem late on.
The problem turned out to be a significantly serious one with the full-back having been ruled out of the European Championship finals. A replacement will be named after Sunday’s friendly with Romania.
Already without 11 players due to injury or rest time afforded by their participation in European club finals late last week, it is the last thing that Southgate needed.
The England manager was already sweating over the fitness of two of his big-hitters in Jordan Henderson – who has not played since undergoing groin surgery in February – and Harry Maguire, out of action for almost a month with an ankle ligament problem.
Add a shoulder issue regarding Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips – he will hopefully be involved on Sunday – and Southgate will be fearing what will happen next with some justification.
Southgate, who confirmed that Jadon Sancho missed the game through illness – which had forced Declan Rice to miss training earlier this week – said: “Jordan was going to be involved. He wasn’t happy in the morning when he woke up feeling a little bit of discomfort.
“We’ve scanned that and that’s all clear, but we took a decision not to involve him in the game.
“Jadon has been ill so was ruled out and Kalvin, we had already made a decision that although the shoulder’s progressing well, we were going to wait until Sunday before putting him back into the game.
“That’s why we ended up with 10 and, in fact, we were nine for a point and then two with cramp as well, so the end was a bit of a mess. But, look, it’s a really strange circumstance.”
It is the situation with Maguire and Jordan Henderson which looks the most pressing, with the Austrians exposing a lack of nous within the England ranks in a worrying last half-hour at the Riverside in particular.
Indiscipline also raised its head with Tyrone Mings very fortunate not to be sent off in the first half after a forearm smash on Marco Friedl which was not spotted by the Belgian officials with VAR not in operation.
That said, the night was not without plusses by way of more evidence as to why the gifted Jack Grealish has become a key weapon for England in such a short spell of time, with his ability to win free-kicks in dangerous areas being prolific.
A first senior international goal for Bukayo Saka was a big psychological moment for the 19-year-old, while fellow teenager Jude Bellingham – in his maiden start – gave enough evidence to suggest that he has the potential to be a very big player, in every way, in the years to come.
Bellingham’s true time is likely to be in the future. For now, the sight of his Manchester City, United and Chelsea contingent on deck will hearten Southgate while he keeps his fingers firmly crossed at the same juncture.
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