IT WAS strange that Gareth Southgate even felt the need to say it.
But in the aftermath of a miserable defeat in Italy which confirmed his side’s Nations League relegation, the England boss volunteered the opinion that he is the right man to lead the Three Lions into the World Cup in Qatar.
Gareth Southgate is adamant he remains the right man to lead EnglandCredit: Getty
The Three Lions boss was booed by fans after the dismal defeat in ItalyCredit: Rex
Nobody had even suggested Southgate might quit or be sacked less than two months before the World Cup.
Even the thousands of England supporters who booed him in Milan, and after that 4-0 thumping by Hungary at Molineux in June, aren’t seriously demanding a change of management this close to the tournament – especially when there are no obvious English successors.
But Southgate said: “I think I’m the right person to take the team into the tournament.
“I think it’s more stable that way, without a doubt.”
It now feels as though Southgate is at the beginning of the end of his six-year reign. He will head to Frankfurt in a fortnight to attend the draw for the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
But despite his £6million-a-year contract running until that tournament in Germany, it is difficult to imagine him remaining in charge when that qualifying campaign kicks off in March.
After England completed a sequence of five matches without a win — nor a single goal from open play — Southgate sounded like a man in denial.
His claim that his team’s performance in Friday’s 1-0 defeat was ‘a step in the right direction’ was an insult to the intelligence of anyone who watched it — especially the 4,300 paying punters up in the Gods at the San Siro.
Southgate has made plenty of mentions of how previous England managers have suffered widespread criticism from supporters and the media. But in truth, he hasn’t received nearly as much stick as most predecessors.
He is England’s most successful boss since Sir Alf Ramsey, having led the side to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of last year’s Euros.
And despite long-term criticism of his over-cautious approach, supporters have only truly turned on him since the debacle against Hungary — which was England’s heaviest home defeat for nearly a century.
When you consider that Bobby Robson was on the receiving end of ‘In the Name of God, Go!’ headlines, that Graham Taylor was consigned to the vegetable patch and caricatured as a turnip, and that Kevin Keegan quit in a Wembley toilet, Southgate has not had it so bad.
Yet it seems the nation has grown bored of him and that Southgate may be growing tired of the job.
The 52-year-old has not managed a club for 13 years now and is keen to do so.
Walter Winterbottom is the only England manager to have ever taken the side to four major tournament finals and this will be Southgate’s third. This job, which was never quite the ‘impossible job’, does carry a shelf-life, and the current boss is reaching his.
Not that the FA have any obvious successor to call on now that Graham Potter has hitched up with Chelsea.
Southgate became a national treasure and a style icon in Russia four years ago, a status which he always felt embarrassed about.
And he is adamant that he is not bothered by either personal popularity or antipathy.
Southgate said: “I’ve seen every other England manager have it (unpopularity). So I wasn’t and never have been carried away by praise. I know how the game is and it turns so quickly and you’re judged by results.
“Nobody is going to enjoy being booed by the supporters but I understand the job.
“Football management, whenever you have a difficult run of results, it’s always going to be the manager who deals with that. I’ve got to get on with it.”
Southgate is a results-driven manager who is no longer getting results.
His side have always been over-reliant on the goals of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, while their potency from set-pieces has evaporated. But suggestions that the manager is wasting a new ‘golden generation’ are wide of the mark.
England are short of talent in central defence, central midfield and at left-back.
The manager believes, correctly, that England are not good enough to be successful by playing gung-ho football and he is going back to a 3-4-3 formation, which is always met with accusations of over-caution.
Yet we can only hope that his delusional talk of promising performances are not repeated in the dressing room, where some home truths need to be told if England are to avoid an early exit in Qatar.
Southgate claimed: “I don’t think the performance against Italy was far off.
“I know that’s going to get derision because we’re on the back of a run of defeats but the players know in the main the performance was good.
“I’ll ultimately be judged on the tournament and how we do in the tournaments.
“Would we have preferred a different run of results? Without a doubt. We’d like to be scoring goals freely, we’d like to be winning, but this is a different test and we’ve got to show we’re resilient enough to deal with that.”