Euro 2020: A Quartet Of Managers Under Intense Pressure
Whilst the international stage is a time for players to stand and deliver, it's also a time for managers to express their tactical prowess, and make good players look great.
There have been some incredible managerial masterclasses at the Euro’s: From Otto Rehhagel with Greece in 2004 through to Chris Coleman with Wales in 2016, the international stage presents a golden opportunity for the men on the sidelines to make their mark.
However, it can work the other way as well. Managers have crumbled under the pressure and capitulated under the bright lights. From Roy Hodgson with England in 2016 to Bert van Marwijk (Aussie Bert) with the Dutch four years prior, the margin of error is so small that one seemingly minuscule tactical decision can be the difference between coming home a hero or a villain.
With fans itching for the return of international competition, the lights will be brighter than ever. Consequently, the pressure will be stronger than ever as well. From nations with high expectations based on the last tournament, to nations whom were perhaps humiliated last time round to others seeking revenge.
Let's looks at the four managers under the most amount of pressure at Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate - England
It's Gareth Southgate's first Euro’s as manager. He played in this tournament in 1996, and it's one he probably won't want to remember missing the 6th spot-kick in a semi-final against Germany, resulting in yet another English failure on the big stage.
So why is Southgate under so much pressure heading in to this tournament? It's a combination of two things: Results in previous tournaments coupled with the sheer level of talent he has at his disposal.
In his first-ever tournament as a senior manager at the 2018 World Cup, Southgate led England to a semi-final, which wasn’t something England had done at a major tournament since 1996. The consensus around the squad that went to Russia 3 years ago is that it was nowhere near as good as the one travelling around Europe in search of gold this tournament.
Harry Kane has only gotten better. The same can be said for Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson. Declan Rice, Jaden Sancho, Mason Mount and Reece James weren't even on the plane to Russia three years ago, with the latter two recently crowned Champions League winners with Chelsea.
Kalvin Phillips and Jude Bellingham provide good balance and creativity in the centre of midfield which was considered in 2018 "not creative" and "stale".
Luke Shaw is just coming of the season of his life for Manchester United where he earned PFA Team of the Year honours, as too did John Stones who he’ll work alongside throughout the tournament.
The talent is clearly there, that can’t be questioned. The flexibility is there too, with England able to comfortable play either 3 or 4 a the back, while in attack possessing the cattle to either employ a ‘tika taka’ style or opt for a more direct approach.
England’s 2018 campaign was carried by set pieces with 9 of their goals coming directly from set-pieces, or not long after one. This time round, they’ll need to be much more fluid and expansive with the way they play.
Gareth Southgate has a massive, massive job on his hands. Football's homeland hasn't seen it come back for 55 years and it's his responsibility to make it happen.
Joachim Löw - Germany
This will be Joachim Low's final tournament as German manager.
His 15-year reign has seen mostly peaks, however, there have been some troughs along the way too. Those troughs came in his most recent tournament where ‘Die Mannschaft’ flopped at the 2018 World Cup and failed to progress from the group-stage for the first time in 40 years.
Löw thus had plenty of work in the wake of a tournament which saw them lose to both South Korea and Mexico.
He expelled World Cup winning defenders Jerome Boateng and Matt Hummels, along with Thomas Muller from the squad.
With the emphasis on youth, the likes of Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Matthias Ginter all started to feature more prominently. While Hummels and Muller have both returned to the national side and will suit up at the Euros, Boateng wasn’t so lucky.
Germany have had some horrible results recently, famously getting pummelled 6-0 by Spain in Seville.
Being constantly punished on the counter by a rampant La Rioja has many Germans worried heading into this tournament, especially as Spain are nowhere near at their best, along with the fact defence has always been the last thing the Germans have ever had to worry about.
In Löw’s final tournament as coach, the pressure on him is simply enormous. There’s pressure to both solidify his reputation, and perhaps parlay his smarts into a big club job post-Euros. There’s also pressure to get the best out of an immensely talented squad.
This is particularly proud footballing nation with a decorated history which makes the torch shine even brighter upon whoever’s managing it. For now, that’s still Löw, and he remains both highly accountable for how this team plays, and how it navigates its way through a hostile group and tournament at large.
Didier Deschamps - France
The reigning World Cup champs, France has the best man-for-man squad at the Euros bar none.
With N'golo Kante, Kylian Mpabbe and Paul Pogba just to name a few. The scary thing is that this side has only gotten better since that triumph three years ago. The chip will still be on Didier Deschamps and his French side after the heartbreaking final in 2016 where they lost out to Portugal thanks to an Eder screamer which denied the hosts Euro glory for third time.
They have turned from the hunter to the hunted, and could the pressure of redemption prove too much?
France under Deschamps employ a decidedly conservative game style, more than happy to operate without the ball, despite their abundant talent.
‘Les Blues’ like to sit relatively deep, and then spring on the counter with blistering speed. We saw this countless times in the World Cup, with 5 goals being scored on the back of intense, counter-pressing and frightening pace.
If teams decide to sit back, cut off space and keep the French compact, do Deschamps and his squad have the tactical nous to find another way through?
It’s well worth remembering they only mustered 3 goals in the group stage in Russia at the last World Cup, with 2 of those arriving courtesy of an own goal and a penalty. It was only against teams who played expensive football in which they were able to score freely. If their counterattacking game isn't able to get the job done, his team’s progress, and perhaps his job, could be under threat.
Roberto Martinez - Belgium
The Belgium golden generation is slowly but surely decaying as they years slip by, and as the trophy cabinet remains barren.
Vincent Kompany has already gone, and by the time they kick-off for their first game against Russia on Sunday, Eden Hazard will be 30, Jan Vertonghen will be 34, Toby Alderweireld will be 32, Alex Witsel will be 32 and Dries Mertens will be 34. This side isn't the team it once was, and if we’re honest, this side hasn't performed nearly as well as we have expected them to in the past.
At the 2014 World Cup, there was a quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina. Two years later in France, another quarter-final exit, this time succumbing to tournament minnows, Wales. In 2018, a Semi-final exit to the eventual winners France where they produced just 3 shots on target despite garnering 63.6% of the game's possession.
Put simply, Roberto Martinez has a massive job on his hands to get this ageing Belgium side that elusive international trophy. If he can’t, he likely won’t get another chance to do so.
Whilst the ‘Red Devils’ still have the likes of Youri Tielemans, Jeremey Doku, Leandro Trossard and Timothy Castagne coming through their ranks, the talent simply doesn’t match legendary figures such as Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
This is Roberto Martinez's chance to entrench his name in Belgium folk law. He has the squad, he has the system, but can he make sure his side doesn’t once again wilt under the bright lights?
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