Gareth Southgate has insisted that he does not mind if people pin England’s three consecutive defeats on him, because he will always put the development of the team ahead of simply winning matches.
Some critics have pointed to the fact that after losing their last two games at the World Cup, the semi-final to Croatia and the third placed play-off to Belgium, England then lost their Nations League opener to Spain on Saturday evening. That makes three defeats in a row and losing to Switzerland at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday night would make an unprecedented four straight defeats.
But when this was put to Southgate at his pre-match press conference on Monday afternoon, the England manager was very clear. He wanted to win games, but it was not and should not be his only priority.
“Not many England sides have played a World Cup semi-final and a third/fourth place play-off,” Southgate pointed out. “The stats show what you want them to do. From our point of view, we don’t want to be losing games, but to play three games against teams of that quality is a rare occurrence in international football. Our focus is on performance and improvement. The World Cup is finished, but we keep focus on what we can control, to improve every area of game.”
Southgate accepts that he will be criticised in some quarters but that does not mean he will change his focus as manager. He pointed to the difficult opponents England faced last year as proof that he did not only want to win games by any means possible.
“That focus on me, I am not concerned about,” Southgate said. “Otherwise I would make decisions to boost my own win record. Last summer we played friendlies against Brazil, France, Germany and Spain. If it was about my win record then we would not have. The decisions are for the team. The most important thing is to improve the team, and develop their experience. I can live with what people say, about my record, or relegations. I am comfortable in my own skin in that regard.
“The priority isn’t me and my record, it’s developing the England team. I can’t make decisions just to try to get a win. I’ve got to focus on the processes, the things we can control. Some of the guys have played no Premier League minutes, the right thing for them and us is to give them game time and international matches. That’s the reason for doing it.”