On the evidence of his first two matches as interim England manager, the jury is very much out on Gareth Southgate.
He got the points as expected against Malta on Saturday, but the quality of the performance in Tuesday’s goalless draw in Slovenia was so disappointing. England needed composure; instead they were panicky.
An international manager’s job is to get players to show the same abilities they do for their clubs when they turn out for their country. It’s about giving them a base to play from and then motivating them, and we haven’t seen that from Southgate yet.
He has handled himself well given the unusual circumstances of his elevation but the team is still underperforming dramatically. He says he inherited “a mess”, but I’m not sure that’s the right word. It is still the same players.
Fortunately for the Football Association, they don’t have to make a decision on his future until early next year. It is an unusual fixture and therefore maybe not the best by which to judge Southgate, but a lot rests on the World Cup qualifier in Scotland next month.
A draw would mean him taking just five points from a possible nine, and that’s not good. I think he needs to lead England to victory against Scotland just to be in with a chance of keeping the job.
Rooney on a slippery slope
Another debate that is set to run and run is over Wayne Rooney’s England role, after his relegation from the starting line-up in Slovenia failed to prompt any improvement in team performance.
I thought they actually held onto the ball a little better when he came off the bench, although his lack of confidence was clear in the shot he side-footed wide. Normally he would at least hit the target.
Rooney could still come back into the XI but it will require him to be playing effectively and regularly for Manchester United, regardless of what position he is deployed in.
I’d like to think being dropped will give him great motivation, because he is now on a slippery slope. Whether he is able to respond to that challenge will tell us everything about his future prospects.