The Football Association’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, has spoken of his “delight” at Gareth Southgate’s decision to continue as England’s manager and lead the team into qualifying for Euro 2024.
After a week of soul-searching that followed the heartbreak of England’s 2-1 defeat by France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, Southgate has concluded there is no reason for him to quit before his contract ends in December 2024.
The 52-year-old had come into the tournament under heavy pressure, prompting him to consider his position, but the broadly positive reaction to the France game has convinced him that life remains in his tenure.
Southgate’s decision is a major boost for the FA, which did not want to lose him, not least because potential successors are thin on the ground. England begin their Euros qualifying campaign with a trip to Italy on 23 March and a home game against Ukraine three days later.
The prospect of trying to replace Southgate in such a short space of time did not appeal. The leading English candidates, such as Newcastle’s Eddie Howe and Chelsea’s Graham Potter, are unavailable; the FA could have been forced into approaching a foreign manager, with Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino linked with the job recently.
“We are delighted to confirm that Gareth Southgate is continuing as England manager, and will lead our Euro 2024 campaign,” Bullingham said. “Gareth and [assistant] Steve Holland have always had our full support, and our planning for the Euros starts now.”
The FA has given Southgate, who has been in charge for six years, space to make up his mind. A chief consideration for the former Middlesbrough manger was whether he had the energy to take the team into another tournament. Southgate has endured a difficult period since England’s defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final. He was bruised by the public backlash during and after England’s demoralising Nations League campaign, particularly when he was jeered by supporters after the 4-0 defeat by Hungary at Molineux in June.
That result, England’s worst defeat at home since 1928, appeared to confirm that the team had grown stale. England were subsequently relegated from the top tier of the Nations League and Southgate received more abuse after the 1-0 defeat by Italy in Milan in September.
However Bullingham, has been unflinching in his support. England flew to Qatar hopeful of securing their first major men’s trophy since 1966, even though they were on a six-match winless run, and their performances were strong. Southgate sent England out to attack in a positive 4-3-3, they finished top of their group and were hugely unfortunate to lose to France.
It could have been different if Harry Kane, who had equalised with one penalty, had not missed from the spot when he had the chance to make it 2-2 during the dying stages. England, who dominated much of the game, could also feel aggrieved a foul on Bukayo Saka was not awarded during the buildup to the first France goal.
Ultimately England lost on small details – Southgate will look at the tactical problems France caused during the first 20 minutes and the poor defending that led to Olivier Giroud heading the winner from Antoine Griezmann’s cross.
Yet there was no major criticism of Southgate after the final whistle. Some of his substitutions were called into question, but mostly there was recognition that England played good football.
Southgate, who retains the full support of the squad’s senior players, has been able to gain a better perspective after talking with family and friends after flying home from Qatar. He had acknowledged after the France game that it would be difficult to walk away from young talents such as Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Phil Foden, Reece James, Mason Mount and Saka.
The challenge for Southgate will be lifting Kane after his penalty miss and ensuring that England, whose qualifying group also includes Malta and North Macedonia, continue to progress. He has taken them to the semi-finals and quarter-finals of a World Cup, plus the men’s first major final in 55 years. He has another opportunity to prove that he is capable of beating the best teams and leading England to a trophy.