Will Gareth Southgate's Manchester United links derail England's Euros campaign?

Will Gareth Southgate's Manchester United links derail England's Euros campaign?

Published May. 14, 2024 6:11 p.m. ET

The facts about Gareth Southgate that we can be safely certain of, with the European Championships now less than a month away, are as follows.

We know that Southgate is the England national team head coach, as he has been for the past eight years, that his squad are a leading favorite to go one better than their final defeat three years ago, and that he is in charge of one of the most talented rosters his country has ever seen.

But soccer deals in uncertainties and possibilities as much as it does in indisputable truths, and if you can follow the flurry of speculation in the English media closely enough, there is another set of narratives to ponder.

Southgate, according to various reports, will either become Manchester United head coach after the Euros, has no interest in talking about becoming Manchester United head coach, is among the leading contenders to become Manchester United head coach or considers becoming Manchester United head coach to be one of a number of intriguing future possibilities that may be offered to him.


Strangely enough, all of those things may end up being true.

It should come as little surprise that United's board, with a new part-owner in Britain's second-richest person — Sir Jim Ratcliffe — would be unimpressed with current coach Erik ten Hag. 

With two games left, United is currently stuck in eighth place in the English Premier League. If it finishes in that position, and fails to beat all-powerful Manchester City in the FA Cup final, it would mean no participation in European competitions for the first time in a decade.

Neither should it be a shock that Southgate is in the mix to replace ten Hag should the Dutchman be ousted. Southgate's England contract ends in December, and he has done a truly admirable job, exciting a fan base behind a young and sprightly group, which has taught the country that it is OK to love its national team again.

Managerial uncertainty is a thorny old topic though. And just as England finally enters a tournament with things going swimmingly well and with hope never higher that its 58-year trophy drought can end, the links between Southgate and United present a pothole that should not be underestimated.

When a team feels like the boss is on his way out, the dynamic invariably changes. Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool saw its EPL title challenge collapse once it was announced he would be heading elsewhere at the end of the campaign.

At international level, the memory of Spain's Julen Lopentegui being fired days before the 2018 World Cup because details leaked of his impending move to Real Madrid, serves as the ultimate cautionary tale. Spain, arguably then the world's best team, lost to host nation Russia in the round of 16. Lopetegui lasted all of three months in Madrid before being axed there, too.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer, now a media analyst, claimed recently that a current United player had told him that Southgate would soon be arriving. "(Southgate) was the name," McAteer told beIN Sport.

Back in 2018, when a young England squad made a stirring run to the semifinals, Southgate became a cult figure and everything was sweet, with the biggest point of contention being whether his habit of wearing a tailored vest during games would turn the old school sartorial item into a new national fashion statement.

Things are a bit more serious this time, and the stakes higher.

Southgate has his own, specific style, and he is steadfast in sticking to it. 

He has refused to make unrealistic promises and has been unfalteringly honest. He has displayed compassion when necessary, like when Raheem Sterling traveled back to England during the 2022 World Cup after his family home was burgled. There has been ruthlessness on occasion too, because the nature of the job demands it.

Southgate has been fortunate to be able to call upon players of extraordinary caliber, like Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, and a one-in-a-generation striker (and captain) in Harry Kane, but he has also navigated the tricky waters that an over-abundance of talent can bring.

He doesn't want distractions, and no wonder.

"I have to deliver a successful tournament for England and there's enough work involved in that," Southgate told reporters this week. "I think everybody would expect that's where my focus should be.

"There will always be speculation about manager, because if you lose a couple of games you're in trouble – you win a couple of games it's a different agenda. But for me, (Euro 2024) is a brilliant opportunity. We're looking forward to the tournament. My focus is on: how do we go a step further than we went in the last Euros?"

Of course, just because Southgate doesn't want to talk about any links to Manchester United, that won't stop everyone else from chiming in. 

Executive Sir David Brailsford is Ratcliffe's chief advisor, and is close enough friends with Southgate that the coach attended Brailsford's recent 60th birthday party. During his England tenure, Southgate also worked closely with Dan Ashworth, who is set to become United's sporting director once compensation with his former club, Newcastle United, can be worked out.

England goes positively nuts for big tournaments such as the Euros and the World Cup, and this summer will be no exception. So voracious is the appetite for news that the last time a major event was held in Germany, the 2006 World Cup, one of the most discussed items was the behavior of the players' wives and girlfriends, partying it up in a hotel near the team base.

Southgate, and his future, will be irresistible to the scribes, and the audience, alike.

In Britain, you can gamble on such things, and the odds sometimes provide telling insight into the likelihood of certain job candidates being appointed, and are sometimes so wide of the mark as to be laughable.

Southgate, for what it is worth, is a +350 second-favorite with most oddsmakers for the United position, just behind Thomas Tuchel, who seems set to leave Bayern Munich after failing to extend the German giant's run of 10 straight Bundesliga titles.

In England, there is growing concern that the issue of Southgate's future could overshadow what is seen as a huge opportunity for long-awaited hardware.

His team looks confident, boosted hugely by the way Bellingham is coming off the back of an incredible debut season with Real Madrid, and appears to be as fearless and he is proficient - possibly the right kind of on-field character to remain unfazed in the face of the perennial angst and resurfacing of historic scars whenever England gets a sniff of glory.

Southgate and his poise have been a reason for optimism, and there is no reason for that to change. Whether England could also become a victim of his own success – well, that's just one more thing to worry about.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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