THE boos and jeers that rang around Molineux in the final few minutes of England’s Tuesday-night thrashing at the hands of Hungary reflected a narrative that appears to have taken hold amongst a significant section of supporters. ‘Gareth Southgate is wasting a golden generation of players – and needs to go if England are going to achieve anything at this winter’s World Cup’. I’d argue that’s completely wrong on both scores.

A golden generation? Really? When Sven-Goran Eriksson was presiding over a midfield comprising Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, with a peak Michael Owen and an emerging Wayne Rooney up front, that was a golden generation. This? I don’t think it even comes close.

England currently have a decent goalkeeper in Wearsider Jordan Pickford, but one who is undeniably error-prone. They have two or three world-class right-backs, but don’t have a single left-back worthy of the name unless Ben Chilwell recovers from injury. The situation at centre-half is even worse, with Harry Maguire horrendously out of form and John Stones always just one misstep away from a goal-conceding error. They’ll have to start in Qatar though, because the alternatives are even worse.

Declan Rice is developing into a top-class holding midfielder, but Kalvin Phillips’ form has dipped since the Euros and Jude Bellingham is yet to prove he can transfer his excellent club form in Germany onto the international stage.

Further forward, it has been suggested that in Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, England have a crop of attacking-midfielders that should be the envy of the rest of the world. Strip away the Premier League bias, and they’ve still got a fair way to go to be worthy of that mantle.

Perhaps they’ll get there eventually, particularly Foden, who has been unfortunate to have had to miss out on a number of England matches because of injury and Covid. But it is surely telling that Pep Guardiola tends to ignore both Grealish and Sterling for Manchester City’s biggest matches, and Mount has had more than enough opportunities to sparkle in an England shirt now without ever really convincing. Thank goodness for Harry Kane, who remains the one England player any other international side would poach without thinking.

There’s some exciting talent there, undoubtedly. But, for me, England remain what they have been for the last few years – a team with some talented individuals, but also with some deep-rooted and potentially-damaging flaws. They’re one of the teams that could potentially win the World Cup in Qatar, but certainly have no divine right to expect to win any match this winter, especially when it comes to a knockout game against another top-tier nation.

So, what type of manager does England need? Given the defensive concerns that are impossible to solve simply by opting for different personnel, they need someone who has a proven track record of being able to organise sides to be effective in major tournaments. They need someone who knows where the flaws are, and has shown he is adept at being able to mask them. They need a figure the players trust and admire, and who is strong enough to resist the public urge to throw caution to the wind when all that would achieve is to accentuate the deficiencies that already exist.

Put all of that together, and what have you got? Answer? Gareth Southgate. The ironic thing about the mounting calls for a change of manager that have gathered pace since Tuesday night is that if you were to assemble a checklist for what this England squad need ahead of the World Cup, you’d end up with a description of the man who is currently in charge.

Yes, Tuesday was a horror-show. But it came in a glorified friendly at the end of a long, arduous season, when Southgate was wanting to rest a number of his most experienced and influential players to avoid the kind of burn-out that could prove extremely damaging come November. Did it hurt to be thrashed by Hungary on home soil? Yes. Will anyone care one bit if England are playing in the World Cup final on the weekend before Christmas? Of course not.

Southgate’s major tournament record is far too easy to take for granted, but the simple truth is that it marks him out as the ideal person to lead England in Qatar. He has won 64 per cent of his matches at major tournaments (nine wins out of 14), a ratio that is only bettered by Sir Alf Ramsey. And we all know what he won.

The notion that England haven’t beaten anyone significant in a World Cup or European Championship on Southgate’s watch doesn’t stand up (Germany in the first knockout match at the Euros), nor does the idea that he is incapable of leading a side that plays on the front foot (the thrashing of Ukraine).

He has ground his way through games when he has had to (Colombia in the World Cup, Denmark in the Euros), but name me a team that doesn’t win a major trophy without having to scrap their way through every now and then? And while some might belittle the challenge of winning group matches against the likes of Tunisia, Panama and the Czech Republic, you don’t have to have a long memory to recall England coming unstuck against Costa Rica, Iceland, USA and Algeria.

Southgate will do what needs to be done in Qatar. It might not be particularly pretty, with a conservative gameplan seemingly inevitable, but England’s manager can point to his major tournament record as proof that it works. None of his predecessors, aside from Ramsey, were able to do that.