Gareth Southgate's successor may have been sitting next to him all along

Gareth Southgate’s successor may have been sitting next to him all along - John Sibley/Reuters
Gareth Southgate’s successor may have been sitting next to him all along - John Sibley/Reuters

It is the scenario that the Football Association would prefer not to have to contemplate but if Gareth Southgate does decide to step down as England manager after the World Cup then his potential successor might be sitting under their noses.

Steve Holland is unlikely to ignite the same public excitement as the two foreign coaches who would be interested in succeeding Southgate, Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel, but that might not matter to the FA.

Southgate has a contract that runs until the end of 2024, after the European Championships, and his destiny is in his own hands. The FA will implore him to stay on even if England are beaten by France in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final, but will not attempt to keep him to his deal if he decides the time is right to step down at the end of his third major tournament in charge.

The FA remain hopeful Southgate will stay on after the World Cup, despite sources claiming he is ready to go however the tournament finishes and the former defender has skillfully dodged attempts to tease clues out of him regarding his future in Doha.

There is not thought to be a succession plan ready to implement if Southgate does give the FA the news they do not want to hear and there are no set parameters for where the next England manager would have to come from, with foreign candidates likely to be considered.

While there would be much public backing for the FA to appoint a top foreign coach such as Pochettino or Tuchel, there would also be external pressure to offer the job to the best possible English candidate and, right now, that would appear to be Southgate’s assistant Holland.

Steve Holland has been confirmed as England's assistant manager, juggling the role with his Chelsea commitments until leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer - Mike Egerton/PA
Steve Holland has been confirmed as England's assistant manager, juggling the role with his Chelsea commitments until leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer - Mike Egerton/PA

Along with Southgate, Holland last year signed a new contract through to December 2024 and the 52-year-old would offer the FA continuity with only an 18-month run to the Euros in Germany.

Having only joined Chelsea in September, there is no prospect of Graham Potter quitting his current job to succeed Southgate and the Blues’ owners remain committed to him even if the club miss out on a top four finish and Champions League qualification this season.

Eddie Howe is happy at Newcastle United, who will resume their season with dreams of qualifying for Europe, which leaves very little in the way of English competition for Holland.

Pochettino and Tuchel have both turned down a number of offers to return to management, but would be open to an approach from the FA. Intriguingly, Tuchel was said to favour the prospect of the England job over the Germany post, before it was confirmed on Wednesday that Hansi Flick will stay on.

Whether or not Holland would want to step up to become England manager is unknown, but he would almost certainly be given the opportunity to make a case to do so and would receive the backing of Southgate.

Southgate has previously insisted that Holland is far more than a ‘number two’ and is always careful to emphasise how they work together with  England by using ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ when explaining decisions and selection.

'The most successful coach in English football'

Other than a short stint in charge of Crewe Alexandra in 2007, Holland has little experience of being a manager in his own right but was hugely successful working under a host of managers at Chelsea, first as a coach of the reserves and then as an assistant with the first team.

During Holland’s time at Chelsea, when he worked under a host of top managers including Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Antonio Conte, the club won the Champions League, Europa League, Premier League title, FA Cup and the League Cup.

Last year, Southgate said: “I think he would be the most successful coach in English football or English coach, I can’t think of anyone else who has won the things he has won or had his experience at club and international level. He's a top operator.”

Like Holland, Southgate had little experience of being a top club manager before taking the England job but his work within the system with the Under-21s and his understanding of how the FA works and the demands of the national team post has proved to be invaluable.

The FA have also underlined their commitment to providing a pathway to coaches and not just players, with Under-21 coach Lee Carsely giving the England players a presentation of their last opponents, Senegal, and head of coaching Tim Dittmer providing a scouting report on France.

If Southgate does decide he has served his time as England manager after this World Cup, then it may well be that the FA will have a decision to make between three leading candidates – a man from Argentina, a man from Germany and their own man, Holland.