Gareth Southgate is not ducking criticism and knew there would be calls for change after a humiliating home loss to Hungary that has not shaken the manager’s belief that England are World Cup contenders.
The afterglow from last summer’s unforgettable run to the Euro 2020 final has well and truly gone, with fans turning on the Three Lions boss and his players just five months out from Qatar.
“You don’t know what you’re doing” echoed around Molineux as Hungary inflicted a 4-0 loss on Tuesday evening – England’s biggest home defeat since 1928.
Southgate is in the eye of the storm after the “most difficult night” of his near six years in charge, which ended a difficult winless run of four Nations League matches in 11 days.
Defeats to Hungary bookended the draws with Germany and Italy during a meet-up that saw the Three Lions boss, who is contracted until 2024, repeat that he would not outstay his welcome as England manager.
Asked how he judged that viewpoint after the loss to Hungary, he told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Well, I don’t think now is a good time to reflect on those sorts of things because I think everything needs time.
“I know there’ll be a lot of criticism and there’ll be a lot of call for change I’m sure.
“But I go back to the fact when we’ve had our strongest teams we’ve had excellent results, I think, and I believe the players have still given everything.
“This has been a really unique set of fixtures. I was concerned about it before because I knew we were going to have to make changes and I knew we couldn’t field a full team for every game.
“We highlighted the Germany one as one that was really important to test the strongest group.
“But we needed to find out about other players ahead of the World Cup and maybe even beyond the World Cup because a team has to keep evolving, so that was the reason for the decisions.
“But of course when you lose the matches as we have and you have a game at home like tonight has been, then I understand all the criticism that will come.”
Southgate knows such scrutiny and pressure is part and parcel of what used to be known as ‘the impossible job’, with the England boss quick to point to the flak his predecessors have dealt with.
The former defender accepts criticism after a 4-0 home loss against the side 40th in the FIFA world rankings, saying it “is something that I’ve got to take on the chin, I’m not ducking that at all”.
Southgate is also confident the “chastening” loss will not damage their World Cup chances in five months’ time after a month when the need to experiment and juggle minutes while dealing with some absentees.
Given those factors, the England boss was asked in the press conference if he was still as confident of success in Qatar as before this fortnight.
“Well, of course after a result like tonight whatever I answer to that question is going to be open to ridicule, so I’ve got to get the balance right,” Southgate said.
“What we’re very clear on is what works for us, what gets results for us, what has got results for us.
“We didn’t get that balance right in these games but I think there are mitigating circumstances for that.
“We’ve always said we are one of a group of teams that can be pushing in the winter. I don’t believe that’s any different.
“I think other big teams have had difficult periods in this competition. It’s been a really unique set of circumstances for every country to deal with.
“Of course, we’re only looking at the focus on ours but I’m looking at the balance across all of Europe and there’s lots of other countries in a similar situation.
“So, I’ve got to take the lessons learned from all of the games we’ve played – some good, some not so good – and apply those for giving us the best chance of success in the winter.”