England manager Gareth Southgate 03
Gareth Southgate has been in charge of England since 2016 Image Credit: Twitter

We’re not creative enough and we’re not positive enough.

Those nine words have haunted me for as long as I can remember.

The sentence features in the iconic ‘Three Lions (It’s Coming Home)’ anthem, which is belted out every two years by Englishmen across the globe ahead of a major international tournament, whether that be the UEFA European Championship or the Fifa World Cup.

It’s a song that gives you hope that the England football team can end what is now 58 years without winning major silverware.

When it was released by comedians David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and rock band The Lightning Seeds in 1996, it was ‘thirty years of hurt’ but they had ‘never stopped dreaming’.

Twenty-eight years later, we’re all still dreaming.

And it’s mainly down to those aforementioned nine words that have prevented England from sitting atop the podium.

Ever since I properly started watching football at the age of nine, England have had seven managers at the helm.

We’ll discard Stuart Pearce and Sam Allardyce from that list as they both only managed one game apiece.

That leaves five managers to have had sufficient time to work their magic on the squad.

Sven-Göran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and the current manager Gareth Southgate.

Eriksson promised so much but failed to take us past the quarter finals of his three major tournaments, while McClaren was once dubbed the 'wally with a brolly' by the British press when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008.

Things didn’t get much better under Capello, with the Italian overseeing a 4-1 thumping by Germany in the 2010 World Cup last 16 in his only outing at an international tournament.

And there’s the Hodgson, whose England team will always be remembered for all the wrong reasons after being knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland.

Not going too well for a team that apparently contained the ‘golden generation’, is it?

But then Southgate was appointed.

England's Harry Kane consoles Bukayo Saka after the penalty shootout against Italy in the Euro 2020 final
Harry Kane consoles Bukayo Saka after the penalty shootout against Italy in the Euro 2020 final Image Credit: AP

I, like many others, were dubious of the call by the Football Association to give such an inexperienced manager the keys to the National Team.

The Englishman’s only prior experience managing in senior football was a three-year spell at Middleborough, which ended with a sacking, shortly after the Boro were relegated from the Premier League.

It hardly screamed England manager.

But I was wrong. Southgate has done more for England in the last eight years than any other manager has in my lifetime.

He reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, a Euro final on home soil in 2020 and oversaw a quarter final exit to eventual runners-up France at the World Cup in Qatar two years ago.

While there is no doubt that the last eight years have been the best of my 30-year life following the England team, we still haven’t got our hands on the silverware we so desperately crave.

Again, I’ll go back to the nine words at the beginning of this article - We’re not creative enough and we’re not positive enough.

In 2018 and 2020, England took an early lead against Croatia and Italy respectively, but still couldn’t get over the line.

On both occasions, England dominated the opening 30 minutes and could have put the game to bed.

They failed to do so.

In fact, after the opening period in both games, they largely sat back to defend their lead – a criminal mistake when it was clear to all that both of them outfits were there for the taking.

While the 11 players on the pitch are ultimately responsible for the result, it is the manager who relays tactics, style of play and formations to the team.

Gareth Southgate addresses his players during the 2018 World Cup Image Credit: AFP

Rather than directing his players to kill the game off while the opportunity was there, Southgate opted to defend, which led to England’s demise.

To make this mistake once is bad enough, but twice? That’s criminal.

Against Italy, England’s free-scoring Harry Kane failed to muster a shot or create a goal-scoring chance for only the second time in his then 61 appearances for England.

That stat alone pretty much sums up England’s approach to the Euro 2020 final.

Plain and simple, Southgate got it wrong when it really mattered.

Fast forward to 2022 and there was a buzz around England heading into a World Cup that hadn’t been felt in previous years. We were one of the favourites, and it felt good.

‘Three Lions (It’s Coming Home)’ would be on repeat for every England fan in the build-up and during the tournament, which was held in the Middle East for the first time.

The song famously declares, ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming. Football’s coming home.’

Would I finally see my beloved England hoist the World Cup trophy for the first time since 1966?

You already know the answer. I wouldn’t.

Despite boasting one of the strongest squads in the tournament, England’s campaign ended at the quarter final stage against a France team led by the red-hot Kylian Mbappe.

It would be harsh on Southgate to have any real complaints about going out to such a strong team, but England gave them far too much respect in the first half.

When Jude Bellingham and Co realised they could give the 2018 world champions a run for their money, they turned it up a gear.

If it wasn’t for a missed Harry Kane penalty late on, who knows how far we might have progressed.

But that was then, and this now.

Despite still being skeptical of Southgate’s tactics, I do believe he is the right man to finally end England’s trophy drought on July 14 2024 – the date of the Euro 2024 final in Germany.

But he must learn from his mistakes.

It will be unforgivable if he doesn’t and could potentially leave his legacy in tatters.

Phil Foden-1716142387619
Phil Foden helped Manchester City lift the Premier League for a fourth successive time earlier this month Image Credit: Reuters

England’s current team boasts the Bundesliga top scorer Kane, generational talent Bellingham, who scored 19 goals for Real Madrid in his maiden La Liga season, and Premier League Player of the Season Phil Foden.

Add Bukayo Saka and Cole Palmer to that trio and you have a quintet of real high quality attacking players.

They are some of the finest foiotballers in the world and must be let off their leash this summer.

If they are given the same attacking freedom they have been permitted by their clubs this season and perform to the level they are capable of, England will be partying well into the Berlin night on July 14.

Rather than sit back and defend when taking a lead against another European heavyweight, Southgate must direct his team to go in for the kill and finish them off. We are known as the 'Three Lions' after all.

We simply cannot allow a repeat of the 2018 World Cup semi final or Euro 2020 final.

This could also well be England’s greatest chance of glory for as long as I can remember.

Every team bar France, who they are likely to meet in the semi finals, are far weaker than they have been in recent years.

Germany haven’t enjoyed the success that once seemed to follow them, while Spain long for a team capable of taking them to the dizzy heights of their 2010 World Cup triumph.

You could make an argument that Portugal look strong, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But England are more than capable of seeing them off as long as Southgate gets his tactics right.

Gareth Southgate, if you’re reading this, on behalf of every England fan, please make us forget those nine words that haunt us every time we play in a major tournament.

Be creative. Be positive.