Gareth Southgate has offered Harry Maguire his full support as he prepares for Friday night’s Nations League game here against Italy and the first chance to move on after June’s horrendous start to the competition – when the England manager admits he made mistakes has made.
Southgate’s team lost 1-0 in Hungary – only their second loss in 23 games; the other came on penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final. And then, after a draw with Germany and Italy, they fell to a 4-0 home reverse against Hungary when Southgate was booed by the crowd at Molineux.
Southgate said he lacked ruthlessness and made compromises he regretted, suggesting the team’s previous excellent form had taken the edge off the environment.
But he was most interesting before the return with Italy when he discussed Maguire who, after a bad season last season, has lost contact and is being relentlessly monitored. The Manchester United captain has since lost his place at club level.
Southgate made the point that the situation couldn’t go on forever, with the World Cup looming in late November. After Italy, England will play Germany at Wembley on Monday and then it will be their opening game against Iran.
But Southgate drew a parallel with the rugby world when he recalled how England head coach Eddie Jones had stood alongside his Saracen stars when they were not playing at the required level following the club’s relegation in 2020.
“Eddie felt they were his best players and although they were undercooked they would still be better than players who were not of the same level,” said Southgate. “Obviously it’s not an ideal situation [with Maguire]. We’re only a few weeks away from pre-season so physically, if they’ve had a couple of 90 minutes, that’s fine. Another seven to eight weeks, that’s starting to get more complicated.
“But he’s an important player for us and it’s important to support our best players. Whatever reputation I have, I’ll put it on it. He’s our most dominant central defender in the air. Him and John [Stones] are incredible with the ball – the amount of pressure they’ve put on the team in tournaments because we don’t always have that midfielder who can move the game forward. It means there’s an enormous amount of more pressure on our central defenders to use the ball well and those two are just as good at it as they are in world football.”
Southgate, who is expected to return to a back-three at San Siro, said in June that complacency had been an issue, he felt comfortable. But the words didn’t seem quite inappropriate.
“We were 22 games without a loss” [apart from the penalty defeat against Italy] and to anyone you think it just goes on and on and maybe you’re not that ruthless when it comes to certain decision making,” Southgate said.
“I’ve compromised one or two things. When you have a tough run, it hardens your determination. We’re very clear about why those things happened and what needs to be done to put those things right.
“Every manager makes mistakes. Every manager reflects. I’m not saying I felt comfortable. I said in general that sometimes when you’re on a big flight you don’t dig so deep into what could be happening and what could go wrong. Summer was very complicated, but we looked at everything and there were things that we should have done better. Often some of those things still happen when you win, but you don’t watch it with the same intensity.”