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While confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife, it is also something the FA has expressed in Gareth Southgate following England’s decidedly poor showing in their recent run of Nations League fixtures. After England were booed by their own supporters following a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Hungary at Molineux, the radio switchboards in Knee-Jerk FM studios the length and breadth of the country predictably lit up like Christmas trees, as one Angry Ranty Fan after another called for Southgate’s immediate dismissal just five months and two friendlies before the Human Rights World Cup in Qatar.
While there is no doubting Southgate’s abilities as a politician, diplomat, pizza salesman and communicator, valid questions do remain over his coaching abilities and in-game decision-making. His results at major tournaments provide compelling evidence he is the second most successful coach in England’s history, but it’s worth bearing in mind that his side enjoyed the easiest imaginable run to a World Cup semi-final in Russia before going out to a team they should probably have beaten, then let Italy off the hook before losing last summer’s Euros final on spot-kicks.
“Prior to Gareth being the manager there was not the pride of wearing the England shirt,” tooted FA chair Debbie Hewitt, in defence of Southgate. “There was a club rivalry we would read about, players not getting on. He’s changed that beyond recognition and I’ve seen that for myself. I’ve worked in business and Gareth’s skills, his high IQ, would make him a chief executive in any sphere. That resilience and accountability, there’s no slouched shoulders and that’s what you want in an England manager. We have confidence in Gareth for all the reasons I described and I think that’s the important thing. And it’s particularly important going into the biggest tournament.”
While taking the blame for things which aren’t necessarily our fault has long been a Fiver forte, our inability to stand up straight as a result of years being forced to work in the crawlspace under Fiver Towers is likely to rule the world’s most daily football email out of contention for the England job whenever Southgate does eventually quit or get the heave-ho. For now, however, he and his players have Qatar to think about, not least the manner in which they plan to make a stand against – and handle the inevitable questions about – the abuses visited upon migrant workers by the hosts. “As far as the team is concerned, they are playing in Qatar and it’s inevitable they will be asked questions about human rights,” said Hewitt. “In fact, they are curious and want to learn and want to think about the best way that they can make a difference. Ultimately, we will discuss with the team and with Gareth what we feel is the best statement we can make, particularly about leaving behind a legacy with the rest of our football colleagues internationally.”
And though the FA continues to talk a good game about addressing this decidedly thorny issue, as the clock ticks down to the tournament kick-off in November, it seems remarkable that a mere 12 years after finding out Qatar would be staging the finals, it still appears to have nothing resembling a plan. Of course, talk is better than nothing, but much like a World Cup infrastructure being built by migrant workers who have slaved away in sweltering conditions for the past decade, it also comes cheap.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“He had his time, his space. He has a beautiful history in Turkey, no one can take it away from him. He is a well-known player around the world. But I follow the end of the Özil era” – new Fenerbahce boss Jorge Jesus clears a path for Mesut Özil to pursue a career doing what he loves – playing Fortnite.
“Re: fans booing players they once loved on their return with their new club (yesterday’s Fiver), this is by no means inevitable. In my nearly 60 years of watching Blackeye Rovers, I reckon there have been at least as many welcomes for past heroes who have moved on as venom. In my experience it depends on what they’ve contributed; how they have left and where they have ended up. Nevertheless, the one time I felt really ashamed as a Rovers fan was when Alan Shearer first returned to Ewood Park in a Newcastle shirt and a section of fans actually booed him. Thankfully, on subsequent visits he received the warm reception he warranted” – John Myles.
“I usually agree with Noble Francis, but I think he might be aiming at the wrong target this time (yesterday’s Fiver letters). Jaap Stam is implying that recent managers at Manchester United have not been backed by the board. I think, if you looked at the huge sums they have spent on players in the last five or six years, the board could justifiably claim to have supported each manager very well indeed. The fact that the billion-pound squad is still useless and in need of a complete rebuild is not totally down to the board” – Geoff Saunders.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … John Myles.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Ryan Giggs, who is facing a trial on charges of domestic violence in August, is no longer the manager of Wales. “I do not want the country’s preparations for the World Cup to be affected, destabilised or jeopardised in any way by the continued interest around this case,” he said.
Fifa is reviewing its gender eligibility regulations in the wake of Fina’s ruling to bar transgender women from elite female competitions.
Cameroon’s Football Federation has summoned 44 players from eight clubs for a hearing next month into alleged age or identity cheating.
Meanwhile, its chief suit, Samuel Eto’o, has been handed a 22-month suspended prison sentence by a Spanish court after admitting tax fraud of €3.8m while with Barcelona. He also agreed to pay a €1.8m fine and repay the tax owed. “I admit the facts and I am going to pay what I’m due, but let it be known that I was a just a child then and that I always did what my former agent José María Mesalles, who I considered like a father, asked me to do at that time,” said Eto’o.
Football’s very own version of the Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man meme? This renewal of a commercial partnership at Cambridge United.
And after finally signing Nayef Aguerd, West Ham are now in for Messo, De Briyne and Saluh erm, Armando Broja.
STILL WANT MORE?
The new lightning rod at Manchester United, Richard Arnold, needs a good transfer window to get fans he hasn’t already met in Cheshire pubs onside – and signing Frenkie de Jong wouldn’t be a bad start, writes Jamie Jackson.
Ben McAleer picks out some players in Europe being linked with moves to the Premier League so that you don’t have to.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!