LONDON: No-one is safe under Gareth Southgate, even though England’s interim manager has been given only four games until the end of the year to prove whether he has what it takes to step into the shoes left by the abrupt departure of Sam Allardyce.
The 61-year-old parted company with the Football Association last week after being caught out by a newspaper ‘sting’, talking incautiously about how to circumvent the governing body’s own rules barring third-party ownership of players.
Southgate, the under-21s’ manager who had not wanted the main job when Roy Hodgson quit after the Euro 2016 disaster against Iceland, has changed his mind. Hence he is prepared to do the job ‘his way’ and that includes, if he considers it necessary, to drop captain Wayne Rooney.
His task ahead of tomorrow’s game against Malta has been complicated by a string of injuries including rightback Nathaniel Clyne, midfield/winger Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and centre-forward Harry Kane. But Southgate is not prepared to compromise for the sake of security.
He has warned Rooney that the England top scorer, already sidelined at Manchester United by Jose Mourinho after poor form, must show “clear tactical and positional discipline” if he is to maintain his permanence in the team.
Southgate’s stance differs from that of Allardyce who, after his one winning game in charge against Slovakia last month, said that Rooney could play “wherever he wants”.
Rooney had been instructed to operate behind Harry Kane in a 4-1-4-1 formation against Slovakia but, as time went on, dropped deeper into midfield with an apparent freedom that Allardyce endorsed afterwards.
Southgate, in contrast, will expect all of his players to fulfil the specific role he gives them and not decide on changes themselves within the game.
He said: “Wayne can play any number of different positions and very well but whatever system we play we must have clear tactical responsibility. Whatever position you play it is clear to the players that they understand that fully.
“One of the biggest things we’ve felt is that younger English players probably need to develop more of that tactical understanding, with or without the ball.”
Southgate refused to confirm that Rooney would start against Malta after being used as a substitute for each of United’s past three matches but he insisted that the 30-year-old would provide a crucial leadership role even if he is left out.
Rooney’s likely role has been complicated by Dele Alli’s superb form for Tottenham Hotspur in the No10 role, the captain’s favoured position. Alli also breathed life and purpose into England when he came off the bench against Slovakia.
In this case Rooney might find himself be propelled back up to central striker in the absence of Kane and with Leicester striker Jamie Vardy still struggling to regain last season’s Premier title-winning sharpness.
Southgate has refused to discuss Allardyce’s departure, apart from admitting his concerns about some aspects of the business of football. He said: “I’m involved in a sport I love but an industry that, at times, I don’t like.”
FA chief executive Martin Glenn will give Southgate every chance to prove he is the right man for the job, in the hope of stilling any further wild talk about Arsene Wenger, Alan Pardew or Jurgen Klinsmann.