A nation gripped with pride will sit down on Sunday evening to watch Gareth Southgate’s England side take on Italy in the final of Euro 2021. The last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions. Many thought we wouldn’t make it past the last 16. Thankfully, the cynics have seen their fear turn to joy. England have faced every big test and came out the other side intact. With each win, many more doubters have been convinced. England, a far cry from the emotionally draining side of the 00s, have become a joy to watch at this tournament. Many people will discuss the ins and the outs of England’s success but this is not the place for that.
Argyle manager Ryan Lowe has recently completed his UEFA Pro Licence, the highest qualification an English coach can have. Lowe mentioned in 2019 that he had used previous courses to meet and speak with Gareth Southgate personally. Furthermore, he said that he would feel confident speaking to the England manager for advice at any time. Let’s take a look at some key pillars of Southgate’s managerial creed and see how Lowe’s Argyle could do well to follow them.
Southgate has shown many times that he’s determined to pick and choose his selections to suit the opponents that his side are facing. England have primarily lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation at this tournament but against Germany, Southgate notably matched up the 3-4-3 formation of the visitors. The rationale was clear. If we could stop them using their width to allow Gosens and Havertz to overload our defence, we could get more control of the game. Ergo, we could stop them from dominating in the way they would have liked.
Perhaps this was an area where Argyle were lacking a little last season? It did become a bit of a running joke that Derek Adams would almost reflexively match up a diamond 4-4-2 whenever Argyle but Ryan Lowe perhaps goes too far the other way. Often last season, he was forced to choose between Conor Grant and Panutche Camara.
Intuitively, Camara would be the player of play against a side dominating the game, with his searing pace on the counter likely to assist us. Grant would be more logically the player to play against sides who sit deep. His ability to unlock a defence via the means of a defence splitting pass was needed. Too often though, Lowe would simply pick on their own form rather than specifically matching the opposition up. To be clear, there’s no denying Lowe’s potential as a manager but this is one area he could perhaps look to improve.
Protecting the Defence.
Certainly in England’s early games, if not the later ones, there was a sense that the wins came at the cost of entertainment. The reason for this was quite simple. England’s defence was our weakest area. Whilst we were scoring goals in the qualifying campaign, we also conceded them fairly regularly. From the side that scored the most goals per game in qualifying, England pivoted to being a defensive outfit that won two games 1-0 in the group stages alongside a 0-0 draw. The tactics were evident: he was protecting our weakest area and letting the attack speak for itself. Whilst England have become more expansive in the knockouts, it’s not at the expense of safety first.
This lessons isn’t directly translatable to club football, with the transfer market all important for Argyle. That said, Lowe alluded towards the tail end of last season that we might have to tweak some aspects of our style for team success. The signing of experienced pros like Wilson and Bolton just go to back this up. Let’s hope things go as well as can be hoped for.
What’s the first thing everyone thinks of when they look at this England side? It’s not just the results, it’s the overwhelming team spirit and sense of kinship that dominates the atmosphere. Gareth Southgate used his post match interview following the Ukraine game to praise the three players who were left out of England’s 23 man matchday squad.
Southgate is clearly a manager who cultivates a happy team atmosphere where all players, playing or not playing are happy to be part of the process and will put in every effort both on and off the pitch. England were badly tested against Denmark for the first time by going a goal behind, but they responded brilliantly to it.
As for Argyle? Lowe’s comments to the media at the end of last season suggested Argyle were a ‘weak group’. Now, that’s not to say that the dressing room was an necessarily an unpleasant place to be. Yet, even the most ardent of optimists will surely agree there is work to be done to create the ‘unbreakable’ mentality that England currently have. Again, let’s see how summer signings fare in that regard.
The Way Forward?
This is not to denigrate Ryan Lowe. He’s clearly a young manager of potential and one who has had success with both Argyle and Bury. However, everyone will agree last season didn’t go the way we’d planned. The best coaches are always magpie-like in their determination to steal ideas from influential managers of the era.
Maybe England will take it home on Sunday. Maybe they’ll just fall short. Either way, there is no denying that this tournament has been a success to define a generation. If Argyle can produce even half as much of the joy next season that England have over the past few weeks, we will be in for a satisfying season indeed. Hopefully our very own student of Southgate can use the success as a springboard for a new Argyle era.