I don’t understand Southgate’s tactics: Michael Owen | Football News - Hindustan Times
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I don’t understand Southgate’s tactics: Michael Owen

Jun 24, 2024 09:41 PM IST

The Euros are proving more interesting than the World Cups with close games and drama. Michael Owen analyzes England's struggles and Ronaldo's impact

The Euros are proving to be more interesting than the World Cups. Perhaps they always are. The gap in quality between teams is smaller and that has led to plenty of close games in the 2024 edition as well.

England manager Gareth Southgate (L) and Harry Kane. (AP)
England manager Gareth Southgate (L) and Harry Kane. (AP)

Yet, the tournament has not been without drama and some of it has been provided by one of the pre-tournament favourites England, who have struggled to play the exciting football many thought they could.

Former England striker Michael Owen, in a conversation facilitated by SonyLiv, breaks down what he feels Gareth Southgate needs to change going forward and why Ronaldo’s big-match ability makes opponents very nervous.

Excerpts

When you think about this England team, there is so much good attacking talent. But when you see them out on the field, they are almost playing a very different kind of football, very different from what we see them play for their clubs... So, how does one get it right?

I think that’s always been the case. It is very difficult. We see them in clubs, they know their surroundings, they know their positions, they know their team-mates and they feel comfortable, all those things. But to bring everybody together, in different roles, and sometimes as in England’s case at the moment, in different positions for 1-2 players as well. I think it has always been difficult.

Some nations, we would joke about it, would have players who would be average players in the Premier League. But all of a sudden they would be playing for Lithuania or Slovakia or Malta and they would play like Messi or Ronaldo. Some people just play better when playing international football. England’s problem for a long time has been that their players don’t play as well for the country as they do for the club.

One of the criticisms after the Denmark game was that England were boring going forward. Do you agree, or did Southgate get it right but it didn’t work for this particular game?

We all have opinions and I knew that going into this tournament, I was going to disagree with Southgate’s team because the system he plays I just wouldn’t play. I knew straightaway that we are going to play four defenders (which is fine) but I just think we should play Declan Rice (at No.6) and then we can play two ahead of him, two wide and one striker. That is what every team plays in the Premier League. Arsenal play with a No. 6, Liverpool do that, Chelsea do that, Manchester United, Man City play with just Rodri. I don’t understand this and I don’t like it but I knew it will happen because Southgate has always done this. He has brought in players to play alongside Rice but that means we have two more negative players and that means one of our best players is going to be on the bench. I can’t stand seeing Cole Palmer on the bench to put a (Adam) Wharton or a (Kobbie) Mainoo or Trent Alexander on the pitch. That is just being more defensive when our strength is attack. It’s frustrating.

What would England camp be like right now? Would they shut out the outside noise or will the expectations start to get to them?

I think they would like to shut out the outside noise but in this day and age, it is impossible. Everyone’s got a smartphone. When I was playing, in 1998 for example, there were no mobile phones. Newspapers were banned. We were in France, so everything on television was in French. So, we didn’t know anything. Now you are sat there and it is quite a boring existence in a tournament like this. You are away for weeks and weeks and you only play a few games. There is a lot of downtime as well. It is difficult for the team to shut things out as well because there is always more expectation on England than any other nation.

The other guy who knows a thing or two about expectations is Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what he should do or what the team should do with him... how would you play him?

What a lovely problem to have. He still is obviously very capable. He still scores an enormous amount of goals. Just his very presence on the team sheet makes the opposition very nervous. He is great on penalties which are a huge part of the game nowadays. I just think having him and having so many attacking players around him is a lovely option to have. He may not play every minute but I would definitely involve. Some people think he is getting a bit too old and maybe, if you look at the number, he is. But you can see the condition he keeps himself in and that is a big plus. Personally, if I was going into the European Championship final and I have the option to play him, I would. He is a big-game player, he scores goals when it matters.

What according to you is a big-tournament mentality and do you start to see that come into play now?

We always used to call in big-game players. Certain players, when you need them, they deliver. Some others get nervous. But some find more. Certain nations can rise to the occasion. I suppose England have been guilty over the past few decades of going the other way. It is quite incredible and there is something really powerful about it. Wearing your country’s badge is a special feeling. Hopefully, England can develop that in the years to come.

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