Ian Wright is right, right, right – Gareth Southgate does have the stature to manage Manchester United

Gareth Southgate has been heavily linked with the Manchester United job - and Ian Wright is on the mark about his prospects.
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Let’s start with a certain degree of honesty here – when Ian Wright said on the Stick To Football vodcast that Gareth Southgate has “got the stature to be Manchester United manager,” he was referring to his bearing, demeanour and even dress sense rather than his success as a coach. But while he may well “look the part standing on the line” at Old Trafford, he now has the stature within the game to pull it off as well, and the qualities as a coach.

Wright wasn’t being entirely frivolous with his comments about the way Southgate looks and holds himself, however. Whether it’s justified or not, it’s human nature to respond better to figures of authority who fit the role, and who command respect naturally. It would certainly make man management more straightforward.

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When Southgate first entered the management game at Middlesbrough, he was still young, slightly nerdy and rather gawky, placed in charge of recent team-mates who didn’t necessarily look up to him so much as see him as a friend. Ray Parlour once recalled that at his introductory meeting with the squad, he responded to the traditional ‘you can call me gaffer’ line by asking if ‘big nose’ would do instead. It’s hard to imagine that happening now.

Southgate doesn’t have the almost overwhelming force of charisma of a Guardiola or a Klopp, but he does have a calm self-assuredness, intelligence and eloquence that makes him somebody to whom you listen when he talks. That makes a difference when it comes to managing a multi-national squad full of highly-paid players and perhaps highly-inflated egos.

Wright may go a little too far in criticising Erik ten Hag’s demeanour by comparison (“his massive, big polo-necks, and he doesn’t look quite dressed”) and it’s fair to say that if the Dutchman is jettisoned at the end of the season it won’t be down to a lack of gravitas, but if the heavily-rumoured ambition to bring Southgate in does come to fruition, then his manner won’t do him any harm.

Still, while he may well know how to get a disparate group of players on his side and signing from the same hymn sheet, his personality will only take him so far. Even the most charismatic manager loses his lustre once the losses begin to pile up. So can Southgate cut it in the Premier League?

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While he has always had detractors as England head coach, either those who dislike his conservative tendencies or who feel that by not winning a major tournament with such a gifted squad available, he has failed. The latter point is a pretty thin nit to pick, given that there are other exceptional teams in the international game and that England were only a couple of penalty kicks away from winning Euro 2020, but there is some validity to the first concern.

Entertainment factor has become critical in the modern game – truthfully, it always has been, but as football moves slowly towards being less of a sport and more of a media product, the ability to engage and hold onto a global audience is massively important to owners of superclubs. So does Southgate’s brand of football thrill enough to hold the attention?

Plenty of Southgate’s detractors would argue that it doesn’t, and it’s certainly true that in the biggest games, England tend to play in a very measured, defence-first manner rather than looking to be aggressive or expansive. But then again, England have scored exactly 200 goals over the course of his tenure, an average of 2.19 per game. That’s a better ratio than Alf Ramsey, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Kevin Keegan, or Bobby Robson, for the sake of perspective. England aren’t the greatest of great entertainers, but to describe them as dull is a stretch.

The most important thing, though, is and always will be winning games. Southgate has the best win ratio of any England manager in history save for Fabio Capello, whose teams tended to dive-bomb when it mattered most – and for all that Southgate’s side may have lost some big games in major tournaments, they have also won plenty and come through in crux moments. Germany brushed aside at the last Euros, the penalty shootout against Colombia beneath the crushing weight of years of hurt from 12 yards… you get the gist. Southgate may not have the crowning achievement of a major trophy, but they can’t fairly be accused of being weak in the biggest moments.

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The simple fact is that Southgate is an exceptional international manager by any rational standards. There are reasonable doubts about his tactics in certain matches, or some of his selections, or his ability to change games from the bench when things don't go to plan. But the only real question is whether that will translate to the week in, week out hurly-burly of the domestic game. Given that it’s been 14 years since Southgate left his one and only role in club management, there’s no sensible answer to that – but we may find out before too long if the reports have any truth to them.

Southgate going to Manchester United may or may not prove to be their gain, although there’s little solid evidence upon which to doubt his ability to manage a club side. What it would most certainly be is England’s loss, and it would be a deep one. He has, by any metric, been one of the most consistently capable and successful managers in English history, and probably stands second only to Ramsey himself. And if that doesn’t make him fit to manage a club like United, you have to wonder how high the bar really is.

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