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England’s going home without a trophy and now face big questions

They’re going home.

England are out of the World Cup after another heartbreaking loss. Despite coming in with a solid game plan and asserting a fair amount of control through possession, the reigning champions France caught them looking twice to make them pay for missed opportunities in a 2-1 defeat in the quarterfinals on Saturday. It wasn’t a typical Gareth Southgate loss in a big game, but it was another loss in a big game.

There is plenty to answer for after a third straight disappointment, but who, what, where, and how do England need to change to go from good to great on the biggest stages?

Here are a few places to start…

The biggest question for anyone discussing England is what to do about the manager who has tried so hard, and gotten so far, but in the end it didn’t even matter.

Despite his and England’s shortcomings, he deserves credit. He’s been England’s best manager since Sir Alf Ramsey led them to the World Cup title in 1966, but trophies have eluded him. Now after three major tournament cycles there’s an argument to be made that it’s time to move on for the sake of keeping things fresh.

For one, Southgate has been in the job for two World Cup cycles now as well as a Euro tournament. That takes a toll on a manager, especially in a job that comes with as much scrutiny as the England job. He’s done well adapting tactically, especially to start matches, but the players he’s known since working in the England youth setup are now the generation of players who are starting to age.

Finding new perspectives and new ideas for a new generation of players might be the best move for England. Or, perhaps, the FA have enough confidence in Southgate to trust him through Euro 2024, but it’s time to consider options regardless of the good he’s done. He managed three very talented teams further in tournaments than most of his predecessors, but the FA have to decide if he’s the right man to do so again as younger and potentially more impactful players continue to emerge.

Regardless of whether it’s Southgate or someone else at the helm, there are many questions over player selection that need to be answered going forward.

In terms of players for the future, Jude Bellingham earned plenty of praise for his performances, and certainly has the qualities to be a star for the Three Lions in midfield for a long time. His partner in the center of the park, Declan Rice, is another player who has at least another World Cup ahead, as well as Phil Foden, Conor Gallagher, Marcus Rashford, and Bukayo Saka. If they’re thinking about the next World Cup cycle though, there could be several key changes to the squad.

Up top is the headline grabber, Harry Kane, who will be 32 by the time the next World Cup comes around. Playing at his current level for so long, there’s confidence that the captain still has another couple tournaments left in him, but will it be in the same role? Can he continue to provide the hold-up, link-up, and buildup play that has made him essential to club and country? This is a big question for England, who have leaned on his leadership and playmaking as much as his goals, and there’s not a clear center forward successor waiting in the wings.

Speaking of leadership and playmaking, next to Kane is Raheem Sterling, who has been another great performer in the Southgate era. He was especially crucial in their run to the UEFA Euro final in 2021 with winning goals against Croatia, Czech Republic, and Germany. However, he’s got contention to worry about as well as age, with Rashford, Foden, and Saka each putting in solid tournament performances, not to mention the many talented youngsters coming through.

England’s back line is also likely due for a total change-up. Harry Maguire and John Stones were both questioned even going into this World Cup, and though Maguire exceeded expectations both could reasonably miss out next time around. Neither are on top of their game at club level, and with defenders like Fikayo Tomori, Ben White, and Marc Guehi entering the fold, as well as the versatility of players like Reece James to play in a hybrid role, it’s reasonable to expect things to shake up there.

England’s newly adopted mascot, Dave, will also be making the trip home to England after winning the hearts of the Three Lions squad. He will reportedly go to a veterinary clinic for vaccinations and a quarantine period before finding his next home.

But that report is fairly vague, isn’t it? Will Dave live with one of the players, such as Kyle Walker or John Stones who posted with him? Will he simply be added to the other cats up for adoption? Is he the England team’s cat now, who will live at St. George’s Park? We need answers! You can’t just show us a cat story and end it with “he’s going into a months-long quarantine.”

Wishing all the best to Dave, and to whichever England staffer suddenly became responsible for a cat. As someone who has traveled long distances with a cat in a carrier, it’s not something I wish upon anyone else.

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