Is England’s Southgate the right manager for Man United?

England manager Gareth Southgate has a decision to make, and the clock is ticking.

Multiple sources have told ESPN that he has significant support within the new INEOS-led hierarchy at Manchester United to succeed Erik ten Hag as manager if the Dutchman loses his job at the end of this season, but if he sticks around for two more years with England, he might just end the country’s 60-year wait for World Cup glory.

Try to win a World Cup or manage Manchester United? Take your pick. Both scenarios are based on significant “ifs and buts,” but are realistic nonetheless and are the kind of opportunities that top managers can only dream of.

Since taking charge of England in 2016 in the wake of a disastrous Euro 2016 campaign and Sam Allardyce’s solitary game as manager, Southgate has transformed the nation’s football fortunes, guiding them to a World Cup semifinal and runners-up spot at Euro 2020.

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With world-class talent including the likes of Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden in his squad, Southgate knows England will travel to Germany this summer as one of the favourites to win Euro 2024. And it will be the same at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Yet at 53, Southgate, whose England side face Brazil and Belgium in Wembley friendlies during the international break, is also young enough to capitalise on his work with the national team by returning to a big job in club management and would cost less than £1 million in compensation if he vacated his post.

United’s dramatic 4-3 FA Cup quarterfinal win against Liverpool on Sunday, which secured a semifinal against EFL Championship side Coventry City next month, kept the club’s season alive and boosted Ten Hag’s prospects of winning a trophy. But his position as manager remains in the balance because of the poor results in the Premier League that leave United struggling in sixth place, nine points adrift of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Sources told ESPN that Ten Hag still has much to do to convince INEOS, led by United’s new minority owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, that he is the man to take the club forward and that both Sir Dave Brailsford, INEOS director of sport and a senior player in the new Old Trafford regime, and incoming director of football Dan Ashworth regard Southgate as the favoured candidate to step into any managerial vacancy this summer.

Both men have worked closely with Southgate in the past — Brailsford through the INEOS Leaders in Sport programme and Ashworth during his time with the English Football Association — and sources said that the former Middlesbrough manager’s success with England, both on the pitch and off it in developing a harmonious relationship within the squad, make him the perfect candidate for a club needing to rebuild in every area.

Yet while Ten Hag’s future continues to be the subject of doubt and speculation, the same can also be said of Southgate. His contract as England manager expires in December, and he has consistently avoided the opportunity to declare whether he will stay or go at the end of the Euros.

Sources said that the English FA want Southgate to stay on until the World Cup, regardless of what happens this summer, but the man himself remains undecided. The interest from United may yet force Southgate to decide one way or the other, and long before England fly out to Germany.

If he is to move into club management next season, with United or another club, Southgate needs to make the call before the end of this season. Interested clubs need clarity and can’t wait until mid-July to know whether a candidate will be available. Also, the FA will not only need time to identify and appoint a successor, but will want to avoid England’s tournament being overshadowed by daily speculation over the manager’s future.

By announcing his intentions now, Southgate can either put the speculation to bed and commit to 2026 or he can state that Euro 2024 will signal his exit from the stage. At the end of January, Jurgen Klopp revealed his decision to leave Liverpool this summer, and that announcement appears to have galvanised the club in a positive sense, so the same could work for England and Southgate.

One thing for certain is that keeping everyone guessing until after the Euros will harm Southgate’s chances of landing a big club job this summer. It could also become an unhelpful distraction for England’s chances.

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Yet would Southgate even be the right appointment for United? When ESPN reported on March 6 that he was being assessed by the club alongside Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi and Brentford‘s Thomas Frank, the reaction from United supporters was overwhelmingly sceptical and negative.

Rightly or wrongly, Southgate is largely perceived to be a cautious coach and one who struggles to overcome elite opponents in major tournaments. He has also been out of club management for 15 years after being fired by Middlesbrough shortly after overseeing the team’s relegation from the Premier League in 2008-09. But he has undoubtedly rebuilt his reputation with England, and his eight years in the job will have prepared him for the pressure that comes with managing a club as big as United.

Southgate’s relationship with the likes of Kane and Bellingham could put United to the front of the queue to sign either if or when they choose to return to England from Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, respectively. In addition, his appointment at Old Trafford would likely be welcomed by players such as Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Luke Shaw, who have all shone for England under him.

Yet one criticism leveled at Southgate with England in crucial games at the World Cup and Euro 2020 is that he took too long to make changes that could have turned the game in his team’s favour. He thinks everything through and doesn’t make rash decisions, but there always comes a time to make a big call. That moment is approaching fast.