A risk? Yes. Worth it? Arguably. Will it pay off? Ask again next Tuesday.
While everyone will have a different opinion about what conspired in Kaliningrad last night, one thing is for sure, Southgate is a gambler.
In the cold light of day, last night’s 1-0 defeat to Group G rivals Belgium was pretty meaningless – much like last Sunday’s 6-1 win over Panama.
That victory, while intoxicating and joyous, came against not much more than a pub side. Yesterday saw two B Teams playing out a goalless draw before being interrupted by a wonder goal from a Manchester United flop.
Realistically little can be taken from either apart from looking at Southgate’s mindset.
Southgate has been rightly lauded for his work with the Three Lions over the past few weeks. He’s found a formation that works, employed new tactics and got his stars shining – something many ex-England chiefs could only dream
Yesterday we saw another trait. A gambler. A man willing to risk it all in pursuit of glory. And that should be commended.
Yes, it would have been nice to see England’s form players feature in Kaliningrad. It would have been nice to see the side’s winning run continue. It would have been nice to have Japan in the next round.
Southgate went another way and will know more than anyone that if England fail against Colombia next Tuesday, his head will be in the firing line.
He could have played his strongest team against Belgium, looked to blow them away but move forward down the supposedly ‘stronger’ half of the draw.
Instead, Marcus Rashford’s fluffed one-on-one against Thibaut Courtois ensured the Three Lions will take another route.
If a last-16 exit looms, eyes will return to that Russian enclave, to Southgate’s eight team changes and to the decision to bring on Danny Welbeck with 10 minutes to play, not Harry Kane.
But – and it’s a big fat but – Southgate could have got it right
England can topple Colombia, no doubt about it. And the prospect of Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-finals is enticing to say the least.
Southgate’s controversial ploy has shown he can be savvy and ruthless. The Golden boot aspiring Kane can vouch for that.
England have missed such a characteristic in recent years.
Roy Hodgson was never a man for a risk. Remember him refusing to bring Rashford on at the last Euros? Or his lack of using England’s (at the time) flair players at the last World Cup?
Hodgson, for any of his other qualities, was not a gambler. Southgate has shown he is.