If they were playing in my back garden I’d close the curtains, as the late, great Bill Shankly once said about Everton.
They are just so boring. They were when reaching the very late stages of the last two major competitions. They failed to take advantage of a benign World Cup draw in 2018 and retreated – it’s the Southgate way – after scoring an early goal against Italy in the final of the last Euros.
But one major drawback of negative football is the instantly negative reaction you’ll receive when the results also go negative. For proof see Saturday’s dismal 1-0 defeat at Hungary in the European Nations League.
Some members of national press were just as obsessed with pre-match booing as they were a witless, unimaginative performance against ordinary opposition by the team just 169 days before the start of the World Cup. I can only imagine how different the reaction would have been had Sam Allardyce had been the manager of such a performance.
But then there’s a lot of media love for Southgate. He speaks well you see. He says stuff they nod along to. It’s like they can then accept five at the back with two holding midfielders even against teams England should rout with the attacking players at their disposal. You can bet your life when England face a Wales side in the World Cup with a giant flick-on merchant on his own up front, Southgate will find room for Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice as well as a back five. In Qatar it could well turn out like Scotland’s famous 0-0 win at Wembley in the Euros.
Southgate’s reaction to falling behind against Hungary was to send on a defensive midfielder and a centre-back, while Tammy Abraham, scorer of 27 goals in Serie A last season, sat unused. Apparently players are being saved for an away game in Germany on Tuesday so we’ll see how that goes.
Naturally there were excuses. It had been a long, hard season for some players and it was stiflingly hot. Someone should tell Southgate that not only is the next World Cup taking place at a venue any respectable humans would boycott, but it’s also in the middle of a desert. It could be hot out there.
It wasn’t a great weekend for international results as Wales fluked their way past Ukraine to reach their first World Cup for 64 years. They’ll add little to the occasion as they remain over-reliant on a bloke who barely plays because he’s no longer anywhere near good enough to turn out for the best teams.
I’m old enough to remember the days when qualifying for the World Cup Finals was quite tough, but now it’s opened up to such an extent 32 teams are involved so it’s pretty easy to qualify in comparison.
And there could be a mammoth 48 teams at the 2026 World Cup Finals which even gives a chance to also rans like Scotland. That won’t stop over-the-top partisan pundits like Ally McCoist celebrating like they’d found a cure for cancer.