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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Gareth Southgate and Tite looking to take England and Brazil on respective evolutions

The two sides are both aiming to reinvent themselves under new leadership as they prepare to meet in Tuesday's friendly at Wembley Stadium.

England coach Gareth Southgate oversees training for his side ahead of their friendly with Brazil on Tuesday. John Sibley / Action Images via Reuters
England coach Gareth Southgate oversees training for his side ahead of their friendly with Brazil on Tuesday. John Sibley / Action Images via Reuters

With one year to go before the World Cup in Russia it is a time of change in the international footballing world.

Sides are working on their line-ups and making alterations to personnel ahead of next summer’s action.

England may be going there under the least likely, most mild-mannered revolutionary of all.

It felt as though Gareth Southgate got their manager’s job because of an absence of alternatives and because a polite man seemed whiter than white. He was the establishment figure, an antidote to the more controversial Sam Allardyce.

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But Allardyce ducked a decision and kept Wayne Rooney as captain. Southgate dropped England’s record scorer.

He became the first England manager in two decades to commit to a back three.

Partly because of injuries, he named the most inexperienced England team, in terms of caps, for 35 years against Germany on Friday.

He has handed out 11 debuts in 2017 already. Should Angus Gunn or, more probably, Lewis Cook or Dominic Solanke figure against Brazil in Tuesday's friendly, that number will rise.

Southgate is shaping up as the most radical England coach since the man who gave him his first cap, Terry Venables.

A thoughtful man has proved genuinely different. He has shown he can diagnose the problems with the England team; whether he can solve them is another matter, but if England fail, at least it will not be by repeating the mistakes of the past.

He faces another evolutionary at Wembley Stadium. Tite has transformed Brazil’s fortunes.

He has implemented a higher-paced pressing game, abandoned the policy of picking two defensive midfielders and fast-tracked Gabriel Jesus instead of using a more conventional striker.

But, unlike Southgate, he has married change with results. England face the side second in Fifa’s standings after drawing with the top-ranked team in the world, Germany, on Friday, but Slovakia remain the best team beaten in his reign.

Southgate has an undistinguished record as England manager and, indeed, as a manager in general.

Equally, they have won marquee friendlies under his predecessors – Roy Hodgson alone secured victories against Brazil, Germany, France, Portugal and Italy – and they counted for little in major tournaments. Hence the recognition that change was required.

Southgate has looked to end a culture of complacency about selection; players from big-six clubs were accustomed to getting called up, regardless of whether they were starting regularly.

It is notable that he was quick to jettison some, such as Theo Walcott, who could be branded international underachievers.

Others have been demoted more recently. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has gone from a member of the starting 11 to being out of the squad inside a month. Chris Smalling was told his distribution was not good enough.

So there is the strange situation where Smalling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge are all fit and outside the squad while Solanke, Cook, Jack Cork, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham are in it.

Southgate’s faith in youth has been a recurring theme. Loftus-Cheek justified it with a man-of-the-match display on debut against Germany.

Jordan Pickford, a veteran of one cap, could displace Joe Hart for the World Cup, though the regular will face Brazil.

Both are illustrations of a changing ethos. England are producing players. Their leading clubs are not always playing them.

Southgate is looking to provide a pathway to the senior side for those who have prospered in England’s increasingly successful age-group teams.

The hope may be that a winning mentality stems from their triumphs. It has not come from the full England team. Hence a clearout, a change of shape, philosophy and selection policy.

Southgate has been made alterations but changing England’s fortunes in major tournaments remains the real test.