Southgate brings hope
Southgate's steely resolve can galvanise soft Lions
WORLD CUP QUALIFIER (GROUP F)
ENGLAND v MALTA
(Saturday, 11.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - ELEVEN)
The Three Lions are still rubbish and Sam Allardyce was revealed to be a money-grabbing braggart who orchestrated his own downfall.
It's important to reiterate these points at the outset to avoid tumbling again into that pit of delusion, a common hazard when discussing the England manager.
In recent days, a couple of daft assertions have inevitably crept to the fore.
First, Gareth Southgate's inexperience and overwhelming niceness will hinder his progress at international level.
And second, the Three Lions deserve a manager with a higher profile. Actually, no they don't.
The over-indulged, under-performing collection of bumbling, bulging wallets got the manager they deserved in Allardyce.
He was English. He was old-school. His arrogance was as ludicrous as it was unwarranted (his initials were monogrammed on his cuffs for his first England press conference. Big Sam opted for "SA", although "BS" now seems more fitting).
Allardyce's belief in the innate superiority of both himself and English football convinced him that "Singaporean businessmen" would pay £400,000 ($704,000) to hear his waffle. His ego destroyed him.
So in the case of England, nice guys don't finish last. Bluffers and blunderers do.
The Three Lions have suffered enough at the hands of the latter, so what harm can Southgate really do?
In the last 15 years, England ticked the checklist of recruitment cliches, pandering to the popular trends of the day.
There was the foreign manager with the air of an analytical boffin; the hand-reared tracksuit coach promoted from within; the Italian disciplinarian hired to control the rich and infamous; the safe, political choice after the dressing room revolt and the proud patriot. England tried them all.
And they all failed.
In those context, Southgate isn't a risk, but a practical and even necessary alternative.
His first press conference was measured and controlled and the 46-year-old should now enjoy a benign honeymoon.
Beginning with Malta on Sunday morning (Singapore time), England's upcoming World Cup qualification fixtures are so gentle, Wayne Rooney could slot in at right back, and still not jeopardise their chances of victory.
Besides, there's something about Southgate, something about his demeanour - not to mention the dramatic circumstances of his appointment - that offers the faintest glimmer of hope.
His friend Alan Pardew remembers Southgate as a young, skinny defender at Crystal Palace.
He wasn't very good.
According to Pardew, Southgate relied on two discernible qualities to take his limited talents all the way to the Euro 1996 semi-finals: an uncompromising work ethic and a rare intellect.
The England centre back earned 57 caps, not by being the best, but the brightest.
At Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and then Middlesbrough as both player and manager, Southgate developed a reputation for being the cleverest man in the dressing room. He read not only the game, but the people around him.
But intelligence isn't necessarily a shortcut to inspiration.
In fact, Southgate famously savaged Sven-Goran Eriksson for his uninspired team talks.
When England came in at half-time of the 2002 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, Southgate said: "We wanted Winston Churchill and we got Iain Duncan Smith."
Sceptics are now comparing Southgate with the dull Conservative politician rather than the great wartime leader, but the comparison isn't fair.
A steely resolve has underpinned his career, from that scrawny kid at Palace to the Toulon Tournament-winning coach with England's Under-21s.
It's well documented that Southgate suffered the ignominy of missing the decisive sixth penalty in the Euro 1996 semi-final shoot-out against Germany.
What is less remembered is that he wasn't supposed to take a penalty. He stepped up only because certain teammates shrank in the spotlight.
When they went hiding, Southgate put his hand up.
And at the age of 35, the rookie Boro coach succeeded where other, more experienced managers had often failed.
He got the best out of temperamental Aussie striker Mark Viduka.
So Southgate will not wilt under the pressure of playing Malta. Nor will he have any difficulty working with the likes of Marcus Rashford, young footballers he has already nurtured with the Under-21s.
He's a cool head for chaotic times.
After the Allardyce circus, there's no need to send in any more clowns.
When I first got into the squad, he was in the squad then. He's done a very good job with the U-21s, and he's got an opportunity to show what he can do at senior level.
— Wayne Rooney on interim manager Gareth Southgate
Out: Sterling, Johnson; In: Keane, Townsend
Injury has denied Raheem Sterling the chance to reproduce his fine Manchester City form in an England shirt.
The 21-year-old has responded remarkably to a tough Euro 2016 in which he called himself "the hated one", flourishing under Pep Guardiola's tutelage.
Sterling has scored five goals in 10 appearances for City this term, but an unspecified injury means the winger will miss interim manager Gareth Southgate's first matches in charge against Malta and Slovenia.
Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend has been named as his replacement for the World Cup qualifiers, returning to the squad for the first time since the pre-Euro 2016 friendlies against Turkey and Australia.
The former Tottenham and Newcastle player joined the rest of the squad when they convened at St George's Park yesterday.
Southgate has now handed out six recalls after succeeding Sam Allardyce on a temporary basis, with Townsend joining Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Ryan Bertrand, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Glen Johnson.
The latter, now 32, was last seen in an England shirt in the 2014 World Cup and came in after an injury to Liverpool right back Nathaniel Clyne.
But Johnson pulled out of the squad with an unspecified injury and Burnley defender Michael Keane has been called up by England for the first time.
The call-up is reward for the 23-year-old's fine start to the season with Burnley and follows appearances for England at Under-19, U-20 and U-21 levels.
Southgate knows Keane well from his time at the Under-21s helm and took the Manchester United academy graduate to last year's European Championship in the Czech Republic.
England welcome Malta to Wembley on Sunday morning (Singapore time), before travelling to Slovenia on Oct 11. - PA Sport.