Southgate must be protected from the England job for now

England U21 manager Gareth Southgate.
England U21 manager Gareth Southgate.
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APPOINTING continuity candidates brings with it no cast-iron guarantee of success.

For every Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Joachim Low, there is a Roy Evans, Wilf McGuinness and most famously and painfully of all, a Steve McClaren.

The name currently doing the rounds at the top of the betting to replace Roy Hodgson as England manager is a figure who also knows the FA ‘system’ well in Gareth Southgate, who ticks most boxes that you would want in any suitable replacement.

That he is an able, articulate, intelligent and respected figure with youth on his side and credit in the bank after leading England’s Under-21s to victory in the Toulon tournament for the first time since 1994 is beyond repute.

But for a man who knows him well in former Middlesbrough team-mate Danny Mills, being handed arguably the most taxing job in international football – a minefield fraught with hidden dangers – is a question of timing.

Just as Mills, now a leading radio pundit following his playing days with the likes of Leeds United, Boro and England, believes it fatefully was when Southgate was handed the reigns on Teesside a decade ago, with the mud still on his boots after finishing playing.

Southgate’s tenure lasted three years, with the 45-year-old overseeing mixed results which ended with Boro being relegated from the top flight in May, 2009 and a sacking five months later.

A consistent remark in many post-match press conferences from Southgate alluded to the fact that his team – and, by essence, himself – must learn in keeping with the fact that he was still a managerial greenhorn.

It is to Southgate’s credit that he has adeptly reconstructed his second footballing career following a spell as the Football Association’s head of elite development and now with the Under-21s, whom he took over in August, 2013.

But many believe that unfinished business remains in his current post with the Under-21s, who failed to reach the knock-out stages in last summer’s European Championships, with the next finals coming in Poland next June. And reports were coming out last night that Southgate himself had distanced himself from the job.

That has not stopped FA chief executive Martin Glenn hinting Southgate could be handed the senior England post on an interim basis as a worldwide search for Hodgson’s successor begins.

While not keen to talk names, Glenn conceded that Southgate would be a “pretty obvious” interim solution should they not appoint Hodgson’s successor by the first World Cup qualifier against Slovakia on September 4.

As for the long-term post, there is rather more circumspection from several, with Mills among that number as much to ‘protect’ Southgate as anything else.

Mills said: “If this was two years’ time, then Gareth would probably be the main man.

“He is being groomed and he had a very successful tournament recently and did incredibly well. He is very good with players.

“I know Gareth and like him and think he would do a good job. But maybe, a little bit like the Middlesbrough job when he was almost forced to take that through circumstances, it might be a little bit too much, too soon.

“But there aren’t too many candidates. I am not convinced by Sam Allardyce, while Steve Bruce hasn’t got enough European and international experience and I don’t think Alan Pardew will get the job, even though he has done very well for Crystal Palace.”

The jury may be out regarding Hodgson’s successor, but one thing that Mills is unequivocal about is that the name must be that of an Englishman. That would be in order to send out the right message to all aspiring coaches as part of the FA Commission’s desire to significantly increase the number of qualified English coaches at all levels as part of the vision to transform coaching and grassroots football.

Settling upon a small and select group of candidates represents the hard part, according to Mills, with England due to play four 2018 World Cup qualifying games this year.

Mills, a member of the FA Commission and capped 19 times by England, said: “Ultimately, it has to be an Englishman because if it is not, what does it say to all those aspiring coaches working hard going through the toil and trouble of getting to the top level if you are going to put a foreigner in and say there’s a glass ceiling and that an England coach can only go so far? What would be the point of St George’s Park and a coaching pathway if you cannot ultimately get to the top?

“For me, when you go through the bookmakers’ list, there are around 100 names on it when there should be two or three.”

Discounting the notion that any pundits or leading ex-players such as Alan Shearer and/or Rio Ferdinand potentially being appointed, he added: “Are they going to give it to someone who actually hasn’t done all those badges and got the experience because they are a good pundit and ‘name’ when all these coaches putting in the hours on the training ground and do the badges the FA tell them to do? That would be a slap in the face for those coaches wanting to get to the highest level.”