WHe will meet him again: at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha in eight weeks indeed. In the meantime, if this really is going to be a final trip to Wembley Gareth Southgate As England manager, it was at least a fun, loose, slightly wild Nations League match with a rubbery 3-3 draw, one that came off the wagon in an unexpected way.
Sometimes in the first half at Wembley it felt as if 79,000 people had accidentally wandered into the same stadium and were now seeing it so discreetly. Almost nothing happened for 49 minutes. And then all of a sudden it all happened, all things, some kind of football tantrum.
However, for all the happy things being laid off, there were two elements of clarity.
Life notes, warning notes. Which of these will Southgate listen to?
The good parts were clear enough. Bukayo Saka and Mason Mount came in 25 minutes from the end and changed not just the match, but the feelings, energy and smell of late Gareth. Mount scored a great goal and played with some real fury. A right-handed electrician, ball magnet, Saka touched the ball with great confidence, and was relentless in his search for corners, weaknesses, and past ways.
The story here is going to be that rebound from 2-0 down. But for Southgate, who always talks about basic performances and metrics, it must have been the process that took them there, a display of terribly poignant and confusing defense by Harry Maguire. When do warning signs stop being warning signs and become just things that happen, bad things? Southgate then spoke of not being “weak”, not reacting to “noise”. But loyalty is also the easiest path sometimes.
It started in 50 minutes. Maguire took advantage of the moment, took a loose ball and passed it directly to a German player, putting pressure on himself. Even worse, that player was Jamal Musiala, who tortured Maguire in the opening The League of Nations The match is between these two teams.
Honestly, that’s not what you want if you’re Harry, a whirlwind of trick-and-takes and perfect balance, with a way to swing on the ground like a Moto GP rider bending over, a soccer player who seems to be moving through thin air.
For Maguire, who is a human in this company, whose qualities don’t extend to elite athletic agility, and who is essentially a man, these moments are increasingly mismatched. He came out to meet this danger, standing in front, his feet planted, like a wardrobe left at a bend in the stairs.
Naturally, Musiala was very quick, turning the ball to his left side as Maguire bravely swung his right foot at the last reported sighting. It wasn’t a tackle, just a kick in the leg. The Dutch referee somehow did not award a penalty, but the VAR was immediately executed.
This does not have to be a negative. There is information here. This information is: Maguire is, at this time, not suitable, ready, or able to perform at this level. You may find this form in training. But there is something else here. The world seems to have been pushing for an exit, wondering what that exit would look like, what it would be like, Norway Southgate, his fake old man, his lark? Will it actually be Big H?
Southgate and Maguire. It’s a strange kind of two, a strange kind of interdependence. Maguire was good for Southgate, a fixed point at the best of times, a championship warrior. Southgate has been better for Maguire, giving him all 47 games he’s played, giving him stage, character and aura, and making him move to Manchester United as well. Maguire’s debut in Russia was his sixth England. In the end he was part of the nation’s World Cup roll, Mimi, a fixture, a man who rose to a different path. England was his career in many ways.
But is it really? Ten minutes into that goal, Maguire was left spinning on his back, making a snow angel at Wembley grounds while Musiala swerved again. Shortly after Maguire fell again, it collapsed like a majestic old Anglo-Saxon wall, tackled by Kai Havertz, who then turned away and scored at the other end. “We have to focus on our best players,” Southgate said again at the end. “Unless this situation becomes unacceptable.” Select Untenable.
Southgate did the right thing by choosing him here. This is not the time to “get to know” marginal players. This is the time to try to make this thing look like a team. Five out of 10 starters were original Gareth stock, Class 2018. Loyalty is good, until it stops being good. There is still time to change this story. It seems more unlikely than ever. But if Southgate was really planning on being tough, as he suggested, he would definitely need to start with one of his close generals.