An uncompromising and ruthless relaunch? No, England were timid and stale
If this was Gazball at its purest, maybe Gareth Southgate should have compromised after all.
If this was a return to Southgate’s first principles, a glimpse of his ruthless streak, it makes you wonder whether those principles are still serving this group of players.
And if this was a test of how ready England are for the World Cup in Qatar, which starts less than two months from now, well, it does not suggest the country will be too far into their Advent calendars by the time its football team fly home.
The most disappointing part of all was not the relegation from the top division of the Nations League, but the sense that this was a failed relaunch, a missed opportunity to put any sort of fresh momentum or new answers behind England’s World Cup preparations.
The way that Southgate spoke on Thursday night sounded like he had drawn a line between the miserable summer and the serious autumn. Southgate and his staff had studied June (four games, two points, one goal, none from open play) and decided the problem was too much “compromise”. “You don’t win if you compromise,” Southgate explained. “We’ve got to be completely ruthless.”
Southgate would not be drawn on what those compromises were, but it did feel as if June was a point of too much experimentation and innovation, too much expansive back-four football, too much of a compromise with what parts of the media and public would have him do. But he had returned from the mountaintop with his stone tablets and now it was time to put them into action.
So Friday night in Milan was a chance to get back to the original form of Gazball, the version forged in the 2018 World Cup.