Gareth Southgate met with Eddie Jones during his preparations for the European Championship and has now adopted his use of “finishers” instead of substitutes.
The England rugby head coach coined the term for his replacements during a match, rather than seeing his non-starting squad as “the bench”. Southgate has used the fewest subs of the Euro quarter-finalists but can point to Jack Grealish in particular as having a positive impact.
Southgate met virtually with Jones every few weeks as part of an ideas exchange on how to deal with managing players within the confines of Covid-19 safety measures. Other members of the brains trust included Arsene Wenger, David Moyes and coaches from American sports.
The coaches discussed how to maintain morale and in Southgate’s case that has been pertinent with 15 players disappointed to miss out on a starting place in every game at the Euros, and three of them sat in the stands. But he has stressed the importance of the Euros being a squad game and has used all but five of his players already.
“There are 15 guys who can’t start and they are used to starting every week for their club,” said Southgate. “I’m sure everyone would say ‘get on with it, it’s a European Championship’. But it is an unusual situation.
Players have emphasised that more than 11 players will be needed if England are to go far into the tournament when they have spoken to reporters at their St George’s Park base in Staffordshire.
Southgate’s use of 12 substitutes has been conservative compared to other quarter-finalists such as Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Spain (all 20) but points towards him carefully planning his changes before assessing the state of the game before making his move.
Another factor is that none of England’s games have been runaway wins where players could be rested in the second half. Nor have there been dead-rubbers, as they still needed a result against the Czechs to finish top of Group D.
Some observers point to Southgate’s starting line-ups being built in the same image as him: solid and dependable. Then from a position of strength in matches he can bring on a player like Grealish to try to create more openings.
Against Germany he was England’s ultimate “finisher”, teeing up Luke Shaw to cross for Raheem Sterling’s opener, then providing an assist for Harry Kane to score his first goal at the Euros.
Jordan Henderson has also come on to see out two games, as has Jude Bellingham, who has been handed important roles in central midfield, with Southgate true to his word that the teenager is in the squad for much more than gaining experience.
The chances are that should England make it through to next weekend’s final, there will be an injury picked up or a tactical tweak needed during a match, which is where Southgate’s “finishers” will come into play.
Making it a squad game has its foundations at St George’s Park, where all players are part of the success and celebrations when they return to their base.
“We knew the environment we wanted to create in the last four years and the World Cup was the same but it doesn’t mean the next group embrace it, but these lads have,” said Southgate. “We’ve selected on that basis at times, we know the importance of that dynamic but in the end it is the response of the players that makes that happen.”