Southgate picking the brains of EPL's finest foreign managers
Southgate wisely pinches tactics from the best EPL managers
|(Lukas Podolski 69)|
England's men of the match were Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Juergen Klopp.
Three wise men turned up in a foreign land with generous gifts of a back three, tireless wingbacks and the refined art of gegenpressing.
Finally, an England manager has emerged from the swampy terrain of Jurassic Park to gratefully accept those gifts.
Gareth Southgate still lost his first fixture since being confirmed in the job.
This is England after all.
But the narrow 1-0 defeat in Dortmund yesterday morning (Singapore time) displayed a pragmatic willingness to incorporate the contributions of foreign counterparts in the English game.
Call it the anti-Brexit approach to football management.
Southgate played with a back three, wing backs high up the pitch and encouraged counter-pressing.
Initially, the move looked a little creaky, like teenagers trying to breakdance for the first time in a desperate effort to get down with the cool kids.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Southgate dropped to his knees before the altars of Conte, Pochettino and Klopp, and why not?
Roy Hodgson was also offered foreign gifts, but mostly rejected them. Before Euro 2016, Pochettino gave him an established core of young Englishmen from Tottenham, rising stars familiar with the European counter-attacking model.
But, when the crunch came, Hodgson followed the fiascos of 2012 and 2014 and played safe, retreating to his safe place of banks of four and cautious football.
So there was no harm, really, in Southgate going in the other direction. But it was never really a radical move, a point that was always lost on Hodgson.
Gary Cahill plays in a back three at Chelsea. Chris Smalling is no stranger to the line-up at Manchester United either.
Burnley's Michael Keane was the only genuine risk in Southgate's 3-4-3, but his accomplished debut suggested the England manager had done his homework. Still, there was little historical precedent for Southgate's decision.
Steve McClaren was the last England manager to go with three centre backs in October 2006 and it proved a defensive disaster.
The Three Lions lost 2-0 in Croatia and McClaren was castigated for his perceived naivety.
England just aren't associated with back threes and frilly innovations. It's 4-4-2, fancy-free football with sleeves permanently rolled up and players dipped in pots marked "grit" and "determination".
And this is where Southgate might yet hold an ace card. Unlike Hodgson, Sam Allardyce and McClaren, Southgate brings little baggage to the dugout.
He doesn't have a track record or a particular way of playing. He's free to plagiarise from better managers.
If that sounds obvious, consider the snide remarks if Big Sam had gone with a back three and a dash of counter-pressing.
Imagine the jokes about "Allardici" trying to reinvent himself with a new-fangled foreign formation, like Jeremy Clarkson trying to impress in dad jeans and a designer T-shirt.
Southgate is immune to such ridicule, for now at least, and his timing is propitious.
Like Cahill and Smalling, Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker were also in familiar territory. They are pushed high as wing backs every weekend.
And Pochettino forged the relationship between Eric Dier and Dele Alli, so Southgate made the most of it.
Alli owns the No. 10 role at Tottenham, as he did in Dortmund, ending the tired Wayne Rooney debate once and for all.
Similarly, Adam Lallana's roving role out wide, cutting inside quickly to press an advantage suits the cerebral side of his game. Klopp amplified those strengths at Liverpool and Southgate appears content to exploit them.
Of course, England still lost a glorified testimonial for Lukas Podolski, who reminded his shot-shy opponents how to be decisive in front of goal.
But change is in the air. Southgate doesn't bring dogma to the dugout, but a willingness to learn from better, foreign managers.
The English Premier League has always exploited talented foreign players for its own ends.
It's about time the England team did the same with EPL managers, picking their brains to plot the best way forward.
For the Three Lions, the future is bright, if the future is foreign.