It’s good to see England win ugly - and now it’s time for Southgate to make some big calls.

Published: Monday, 28 March 2022

It’s good to see England winning football matches - however they do it. There is no crime in winning ugly. in fact - it’s a very good habit to develop. Few big tournaments - domestic or international - are ever won by ‘nice’ teams, who play ‘lovely’ football.  

Yes - Barcelona developed a reputation for doing it. But they didn’t really. They knew how to ‘win’.  In Sergio Busquets they had someone who could mix it with the best. A real enforcer. Nothing got past him. If you did - he was stopping you anyway he could.  He didn’t take prisoners.

Barca we’re deceptive because they had a genius up top, who could win games on his own. I’ll never forget him destroying Arsenal at the Camp Nou in the 2010 CL 1/4-finals. He crafted four. He was unplayable. To this day it remains one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen.

Spain didn’t have the luxury of being able to include him of course. With the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and one of my all time favourites, Alonso, in they could turn it on, but they still needed Busquets to ‘impose’ them on other teams. The 2010 WC win is a great example. Remember - they only scored eight goals in the whole tournament and really had to ‘grind’ to beat a very good Dutch side in the final.

England struggled against Switzerland. I’ve read all the guff about how Southgate tweaked things at half time and got a better 45 out of them as a result. Did he? Or did he correct selection errors that he’d initially made?

Look. I like Southgate. He’s a nice guy and in a modern world when a coach is dealing with 22 or more delicate footballers - all with monstrous ego’s - being ‘nice’ can be a strength. But like pretty football - it’s only going to get you so far.

In the end you’ve got to be ruthless. Klopp is. Guardiola is. Tuchel is. Success usually follows. Southgate has got to develop the ability to make big decisions.

He can’t keep changing teams in order to keep everybody happy. ‘He left Rashford out of this squad’ I can hear some saying. ‘And Sancho’. So? Hardly brave was it? Blindingly obvious I would say.

At the Euro’s he got far too much slack. I kept reading that he was a cunning tactician because he would change his team dependent on the opposition. Nonsense. In the end it cost him. Find a team Gareth - and play it. Play it every time England have got a game between now and the tournament in Qatar.

And here’s your first big call - drop Pickford. He’s not good enough. This isn’t a recent conclusion - I’ve said it for some time now. I said it going into the Euro’s. In my opinion he was one of many reasons that England weren’t going to win it.

He makes me nervous. Imagine playing in front of him. You’d shit yourself. As a defender you’ve got to have total confidence in the guy behind you. That’s the last thing that Pickford inspires.

He doesn’t make my top 6 PL keepers. One who does isn’t even playing - Henderson. He’s better. Pope would be ahead of him in my view - but Ramsdale is the best available. Southgate has got to get him in and stick with him. Right now. Pickford has had his turn. He simply isn’t good enough at the very highest level.

The evidence is to be seen at Goodison week after week. If Everton want to stay up they’d be better off playing Asmir Begovic. I’m told, after an impressive game v Newcastle, he would’ve kept his place for the Cup tie at a Palace had he been fit. That might have forced Southgate’s hand. Watch this space and see what Lampard does at the weekend.  

Declan Rice gets better and better. I’ve no idea where he’ll end up, but whoever buys him will be getting a bargain at £150m.

Paul Pogba reckons he’s wasted five and a half years of his career at United. Those of us who watch him every week would agree. And United have wasted millions on a bang average imposter. How dare he? You can count on one hand the number of good games he’s had in a United jersey. I’ve seen some good players in United red down the years - he, definitely - isn’t one of them.

If I were running United I’d invite him to leave now. What’s the point of him
staying? He has absolutely nothing to contribute. United will be better off without him. Play someone who wants to wear that magnificent jersey. Who wants to be at OT. Who cares. Who’s proud to represent the club. Pogba makes my blood boil.

And finally…on another subject - well done United. It’s desperately sad that keeper Paul Wollston has had to retire at just 23 following extensive hip surgery. United have extended his contract by another season to allow him to complete his rehab. Top marks guys. And good luck Paul.