Saint Petersburg - England coach Steve Holland believes
Gareth Southgate is showing the same key qualities he saw in the likes of Jose
Mourinho, Rafael Benitez and Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
Holland worked with the London club's first team from 2011
before joining Southgate, and England, in 2016.
"I think with Gareth, he ticks so many of the boxes
that the best that I've worked with tick," Holland said.
"Does he understand man-management and getting the best
out of players? Yes. Does he understand the value of giving staff ownership and
responsibility? Yes absolutely.
"Does he have experience of international football at
the highest level? Yes.
"He has some outstanding qualities and I've really seen
him grow into the role."
England play Panama on Sunday, looking to build on an
encouraging, albeit last-gasp, opening win over Tunisia, but with morale high
after Harry Kane's double in Volgograd.
The mood was different 18 months ago, when Southgate took
over a team rattled by the tumultuous sacking of Sam Allardyce and still
smarting from defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.
"I think Gareth recognised early on that it wasn't a
time for revolution," Holland said.
Instead, they began rebooting England's young squad and
scouting their potential opponents, starting at the Confederations Cup in
Russia last year.
"We spent a lot of time on a plane but it really gave
us the opportunity to speak about what we'd learned," Holland said.
"We tried to envisage how our team would look in those
kinds of fixtures and we made some decisions. One of those was a back three.
"That decision was with and without the ball. We felt
we would be better with and without the ball with a back three. We had dinner
in Sochi and that was more or less where it was named."
Southgate has admitted his own preferences are informed by
the England teams he played with, in particular the one that reached the
semi-finals at Euro '96 under Terry Venables.
"We looked at Terry Venables, the Euro 96 team, with
Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton as wing-backs and Gary Neville in a back
three, the balance of the midfield," Holland said.
"Even at Italia '90 going back to Bobby Robson, who
started with one way of playing then went to a back three."
Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young filled the wide positions
against Tunisia, with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli playing in front of Jordan
Henderson in midfield. Raheem Sterling supported Kane up front.
"We felt three rather than two in the midfield, given
the profile of players we have, brings in a Lingard or an Alli," Holland
"Also, we have good forwards. If we play 4-3-3 or
4-2-1-3 we can only play one striker. If we play two, we can get two forwards
on the pitch."
There is no room for complacency. England are in a strong
position to progress from Group G but their last game against Belgium will
offer a truer gauge of their standing.
If they qualify, they will be pursuing only their seventh
victory in the knock-out stages of a major tournament since 1966.
The win over Tunisia offered cause for optimism, however,
not least because if Lingard, Sterling and John Stones had converted early
chances, it would have been far more comfortable.
"With finishing, it's practice," Holland said.
"It's psychological, it's about pushing the players to be match-winners
but it is also a process. It might just take the time that it takes.
"If you imagine these guys in a couple of years, and I
hope I'm still around then, once they've become more seasoned at this level,
that could be really exciting. It already is now."