Monday 27 May 2019

How the rival managers compare as England and Belgium do battle for top spot

Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez lock horns as the two nations meet in a World Cup group decider on Thursday.

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and Belgium manager Roberto Martinez go head-to-head at the World Cup on Thursday (Nick Potts/PA)
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and Belgium manager Roberto Martinez go head-to-head at the World Cup on Thursday (Nick Potts/PA)

By Phil Blanche, Press Association Sport

Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez will be calling the shots when England meet Belgium at the World Cup on Thursday.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the two managers shape up ahead of their Kaliningrad meeting, which will decide who progresses as Group G winners.


England manager Gareth Southgate’s popularity has soared during the 2018 World Cup (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Southgate’s popularity has soared during this World Cup. He always had the players’ respect after spending three years in charge of the England Under-21 team and he got the press onside by providing greater media access before the tournament. England have come across as likeable and that has re­connected the team with the fans, both in Russia and back home. Martinez has struggled to win over some sections of the Belgian media despite an impressive World Cup qualification campaign which saw them score a record 43 goals. Some eyebrows were raised by midfielder Radja Nainggolan’s failure to make the 23-man squad. But the in-fighting which has blighted Belgium at past tournaments has so far been absent.

Management style

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez shaped his management style at Swansea and Wigan (Martin Rickett/PA)

Southgate is a relaxed and affable character and that shows in his management style. He has always made a point of getting to know players on an individual level, believing it gives him a clearer idea of what motivates and excites them. Southgate tinkers with his man-management approach depending on the personality of the player he is dealing with. Martinez’s management style has also been moulded in English football, even though he is a Spaniard who spent his formative years at Real Zaragoza. Charming off the pitch, he has shown his ability to motivate and inspire lesser players – notably at Swansea and Wigan. The question is can he do it with big-name  Belgium stars?


Southgate has shown tactical flexibility since becoming England manager. The four-man defence favoured at youth levels has been ditched for a three-man unit and wing-backs capable of delivering dangerous crosses. No-one predicted Kyle Walker’s switch into central defence, but Southgate wants his best players on the pitch. Movement around the main striker is key, as is a genuine set-piece threat. Belgium also line up with three in defence and ask wing-backs Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco – a converted winger – to provide the width. Kevin de Bruyne’s deeper role in midfield allows him to find Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens with hurtful passes, while lone striker Romelu Lukaku can feed off both shorter and longer balls.


Captain Harry Kane is the main man for England boss Gareth Southgate (Adam Davy/PA)

On paper, it looks as if Southgate’s squad is considerably weaker. It has little experience of major tournaments and – captain Harry Kane apart – no-one likely to find their way into a ‘World Cup Best XI’. But there is a nice balance with an organised defence, the work-rate of Jordan Henderson in midfield, the movement of Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli and, of course, Kane’s goals. Belgium’s so-called golden generation are loaded with star quality, most of it playing in the Premier League. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are diligent defenders and De Bruyne oozes class in mdfield. Hazard, Mertens and the combative Lukaku are all goal-scoring threats – but will the pressure of expectation weigh too heavily on Belgium?

Press Association

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