Gareth Southgate has dragged England away from the mediocrity that threatened to engulf the country’s national team when Sam Allardyce was appointed in the wake of the 2-1 defeat at the hands of Iceland.
There was a period when just being an Englishman at a top six club, like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, would have been enough to ensure regular entry into the national squad; most likely a spot in the starting eleven.
But Southgate seems to be the first England manager in recent memory to have looked beyond the club badge his call-ups wear; even in this era when his options are shorter than ever.
Jose Mourinho also has a defence to sort out but is still relying on the hapless duo of Jones and Smalling, so there’s a lesson in the progress Southgate has made with England for the Portuguese to follow…
Trust in potential
Southgate has realised that Smalling and Jones are limited players with ceilings too low to be regular starters for ambitious, upwardly mobile sides but Mourinho is yet to.
Mourinho will point to his inability to sign a centre-back this summer, but in his two and a half years at Old Trafford, he has had plenty of opportunities to jettison the underperforming English duo.
He has splashed plenty on Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly – who should both be ahead of Jones and Smalling in the United pecking order – which is perhaps why Ed Woodward was not forthcoming with more millions to spend on a third centre half in as many seasons.
Southgate can’t sign a single player but has sidestepped the need for Jones and Smalling by putting his faith in youth.
Again, Mourinho has failed to do similar because he’s risk-averse and that’s why Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are out on loan and not being given a real shot at usurping Jones and Smalling.
Mourinho has kept United wedded to a pair of centre backs that were not fit for purpose when Sir Alex Ferguson retired and have regressed since then.
Southgate has shown how he can move on from them; Mourinho must do the same.