MANCHESTER, England — After the acrimonious departure of Sam Allardyce, England’s national soccer team is temporarily in the hands of a man who said just three weeks ago that he wasn’t ready for such a high pressure job.
Yet interim coach Gareth Southgate may end up keeping it given the paucity of top-class English managers around.
The English Football Association’s preference is that an Englishman coaches the national team, but there’s hardly a queue of top-quality candidates.
Alan Pardew, Eddie Howe and Steve Bruce are high on the list of bookmakers’ favorites to be the next England coach, yet none of them have managed a so-called big club in the Premier League or coached a team in the Champions League. Pardew and Howe are in charge of unfashionable Premier League clubs (Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, respectively) and Bruce recently quit as manager of Hull.
Glenn Hoddle, England coach from 1996-99, is also on the bookies’ list and a popular call with ex-professionals even though he hasn’t coached in a decade.
So Southgate, who has been given the reins for England’s next four matches against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain, can stake a claim for the role on a full-time basis should he impress as a caretaker coach.
Except this was the same man who said as recently as Sept. 5 that he needed more experience to be England manager, having coached only one club (Middlesbrough, from 2006-09) and been in charge of the England under-21 side since 2013. Southgate pulled out of the race to succeed Roy Hodgson after the European Championship for this very reason, with the job going to Allardyce.
“I’m pretty clear on what I’m comfortable with,” Southgate said then, “but also I know to take that role wasn’t something I think I’ve got the experience for.
“I think it’s one of the ultimate jobs and you want every skill set possible when you go into it. I think with England, there are one or two other things that I would want to have had experience of before I took that role, to be going into it from a real position of strength. Maybe that happens in the future, maybe it doesn’t?”
Less than a month later, he’s been thrust into what some term “The Impossible Job.”
“To manage England will be a huge responsibility and a huge honor for me,” Southgate said Wednesday.
“With my experience with the under-21s in international football, and having worked with so many of the players who have moved up to the seniors as well, I think we are in a good position to prepare for these games. It’s obviously been a difficult situation for the FA but it was important that there was some stability and continuity for everybody.”
Clean-cut, well-spoken and with no baggage, the 46-year-old Southgate fits the bill for the FA in terms of image. He would be the last person likely to get caught up in the kind of newspaper sting that led to Allardyce losing his job on Tuesday. He also knows the FA and what the national body wants and expects, having been an employee for three years.
“Gareth Southgate will do a good job,” FA chairman Greg Clarke said. “He knows the people, he knows the team, he knows the setup at St. George’s Park. He’ll take over pretty seamlessly.”
Best known for missing a crucial penalty in England’s shootout loss to Germany in the Euro 1996 semifinals, Southgate was fired after three years at Middlesbrough following its relegation from the Premier League. He has repaired his coaching reputation with England’s under-21s and led the team to a first title in 22 years at the Toulon tournament this year.
Bruce is the second-favorite with bookmakers, behind Southgate, and has to be a big contender considering he was interviewed by the FA for the job eventually given to Allardyce. The 38-year-old Howe, who guided unfancied Bournemouth into the Premier League and kept it there, is widely regarded as a future England coach but now may be too soon for him.
The problem for English coaches is they are rarely given the chance to prove themselves at the leading Premier League clubs, who prefer foreign managers. The FA has tried to address the lack of top English coaches by building the sprawling National Football Centre in central England in 2012 and using that as a base from where talented young coaches can be brought through. That will take time, though.
For now, the FA has given itself some breathing space and will look to have a new man in place by England’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania in March.
“It wasn’t the plan we had,” Clarke said, “but we’ve now got to make the new plan work.”