Southgate’s England coaching set-up to blame

In his fortnightly exclusive column for CaughtOffside, Jon Smith, one of football’s first-ever agents and a man who was an integral figure in the forming of the Premier League, discusses why Gareth Southgate’s coaching team are the issue with England, what the Saudi Pro League has planned, what transfers could happen this summer – and more! 

Southgate’s coaching set up is a real problem for England

I like Gareth Southgate a lot, and I used to work with him years ago. He’s a super human being and a great manager. Over the years you see the other great managers, but now it’s always a management team.

In days gone by, when I was working with people like Fergie, he wasn’t the greatest tactician, but he acknowledged that and hired the best tacticians, managing them from an overall capacity and in his case, very personally.

I’m sadly of the view that the coaching set up around Gareth Southgate at the moment just isn’t right. It doesn’t play to the strengths of the players that he’s got.

Look at the way the team played last week and the week before… and eight of those players are in teams that play a high press, very quick movement of the ball, inverted wingbacks on occasion, all the kind of modern jargon that you want to throw in there, but they play it well because they’re well coached.

Gareth could do worse than just say, ‘play like you play at your team and let’s coordinate what you do in a collective,’ rather than ‘let’s play it safe here, keep it there.’

Everything’s a bit old fashioned in this setup. It’s a bit 10 years ago, it’s showing and I’m fearful.

I mean, I want England to win it, but I’m very fearful that coaching has moved on, and England haven’t in coaching terms. I’d like to see us use the wonderful players we’ve got in the ways that they’re used to being used.

Gareth is a really good man manager, I’m just not quite sure what’s happening below him in the tactical management set-up.

Spain or Germany will win the Euros

I can’t see beyond the Spain vs Germany game for the winners of Euro 2024. I just think it’s going to be one of those two.

I’d like England to be in the final but if it’s not to be, then Spain vs Germany is the final I’d like to have seen.

Expect a last-minute rush in the transfer window

There are certain players that I think are going to move this summer, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz being one.

I can’t see much beyond Bayern as far as he’s concerned, because they need to do something big and he will be a great pleaser for the crowd in Munich.

I’m also looking at Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, which is an obvious one to Chelsea, but, as we’ve talked about previously, the way it’s set up at the moment means that the Blues will have to sell before they can buy.

Victor Osimhen

Some of their best homegrown talent like Gallagher and Santos may have to be sold because of the financial implications, rather than the consequence of their positive talent. I think that’s a really strange situation that has to be addressed in how financial fair play is reconfigured.

There will be a lot of money spent in this window but it’ll be quite late. I think everyone will be looking to see what everybody else is doing.

Salah will probably end up in Saudi and Ivan Toney will leave Brentford now, but will he go to Arsenal? Will it be Spurs? Not quite sure, but something’s going to happen with him.

Serious discussions around player welfare need to be had

As a former senior agent, and certainly one that kicks around with a lot of players and agents these days, player welfare is a big topic but one that’s just passed everybody by.

The money’s so big people don’t want to miss out, and there’s always a fear of ‘this can’t go on forever.’

I think there’s a there’s a worry that at the top of the game that there needs to be more competition, more of what the paying public want. However, there’s only so many players to go around and I think player welfare is a serious discussion which hasn’t really been had.

It’s a bit like when Covid happened and the clubs made all the players have the vaccination without really thinking about the potential consequences. ‘Let’s get the game on’ was the attitude, which I think was the right thing to do, but you’re beginning to see the medical kickbacks from the effects of those vaccinations now.

I mean, I’m not medically qualified enough, but there’s too many serious medical conditions, many of them through heart issues, which can’t be pure coincidence.

There’s a moment in time where the finger begins to point to a specific time frame when player ‘congenital heart failures’ actually rose dramatically. At that time, player welfare was second to the welfare of the game, and that’s happening all over the place now.

Players need physical rest and recuperation.

At the end of the season players are beginning to realise how tired they are and how difficult it is for them to keep themselves fit during the close season – and that’s when these conversations must take place. I think that is symptomatic.

One of the reasons given in the past as to why England have performed so poorly at international tournaments is the tiredness in the legs of the players from the Premier League. It’s a more strenuous, more physically taxing league than all of the others, but that’s the price you pay for having the greatest league in the world.

Saudi Pro League bigwigs happy with progress so far; focus remains on 2034

Cristiano Ronaldo of Al Nassr

I didn’t have specific conversations when I met with Saudi Pro League representatives recently, I just had general conversations, but they have a long term goal with their project, running into the World Cup in 2034.

So, as far as they’re concerned, the conversations that we had were all about how we can promote the Saudi league outside of Saudi.

Having said that, inside Saudi, when two of the top teams were playing each other, every coffee lounge and every restaurant had the game on. They weren’t featuring overseas games. They were featuring Saudi Pro League games and the crowd were really, really energised.

So, something good is happening in Saudi football, and I think they’re happy that what they’re creating appears to be working locally. I think their big concern is ‘how do we get international acceptance’? That’s where they’re going to focus their attention.

I think there’ll be a few more deals this summer but nothing sensational. They’re not going to buy the top six players in the world but they’ll buy another two or three reasonably high-profile names. Then the focus is on what happens next. How can they promote what’s happening in Saudi abroad?

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