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  1. #1
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    Gareth Southgate: ‘This might be one of best opportunities we ever have'

    As a child he had the team kit, the old Admiral one with the red and blue patches from the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Strictly speaking, his own football career was limited to Crawley Traders under-12s at the time. Yet Gareth Southgate will tell you he always had his dreams, even at that age. When he wore that kit he was Bryan Robson, captaining his country, winning the World Cup.

    Argentina, 1978, is a more distant memory. He can remember Archie Gemmill’s slalom through the Dutch defence – the only goal in history to be recreated by the English National Ballet – and the ticker-tape of the final in Buenos Aires. Southgate was seven years old and had been given permission to stay up late. “Then there was the delay because the Dutch player [René van de Kerkhof] had a broken arm and there was a row over the plaster cast he was wearing,” he recalls, 40 years on. “That was bad for me because there was a danger I might be sent to bed and miss the second half.”

    Mostly, though, it was 1982 that shaped his World Cup memories. “That was the first one where I had the wall-chart, plotting every game. I remember coming home from school and seeing Bryan Robson score [against France] after 27 seconds and in those days, of course, watching Brazil was even bigger than now because you never saw those players otherwise. To see Zico, Éder, Sócrates … I remember being devastated when they were knocked out against Italy. They are huge moments for me, as a kid, to look back on.”

    We are sitting in an upstairs room of the Cronwell Park, one of the beachside hotels in Repino, and as Southgate reminisces about his first memories of this tournament the thought occurs that he and his players have the opportunity to create their own history now. One more win would put England in their first World Cup semi-final for more than a quarter of a century. Two more would mean a first final since 1966. Three would be football immortality. No wonder that the man sitting here, preparing for a quarter-final against Sweden, is the most popular person in England right now.

    Except, of course, the idea makes him flinch with embarrassment. Southgate has heard about the hashtag – #garethsouthgatewould – that has been trending on Twitter, with follow-up lines such as “give you his charger while he is on 1%” or “eat all the Bountys out of a Celebrations tub because nobody likes them – not even him”. He can smile, too. But it is also very clear that in real life #garethsouthgatewould probably feel more comfortable without the deification. Which is a problem when England are threatening to pull off a never-forgotten story and the manager, let’s face it, is so damn likeable.

    Even when he argues there are different layers to his personality – “I’m very conscious I’ve got a lot of faults, the same as everyone, and I have done plenty of things wrong” – he cannot actually list what precisely that entails. All the same it is obvious, Southgate being the man he is, he would rather turn the praise on his players, the coaches, the back-up staff – anyone, in fact, but himself.

    “There was a big thing made of me going up to the Colombia players to console them after the game,” he says, to cite one example. “For me, that was just a natural response. You have been in a battle with another team. There’s huge respect for the fact they have pushed us all the way and, by the way, I always think it is easier to do that sort of thing when you have won rather than when you have lost. The mark is when you’ve been beaten, and how you deal with that. I mean, it’s easy to be magnanimous in victory, isn’t it?”

    Possibly, yet the point here was that Southgate made a beeline for Mateus Uribe, one of the players whose failure in the penalty shootout put Colombia out of the competition. Southgate, after all, knows a thing or two about being in that position from Euro 96 and the ordeal of “knowing straight away it would be a major issue for the rest of my life”.

    It is just that Southgate can feel awkward sometimes when his niceness becomes the focus – a legacy, undoubtedly, of all those years when people wondered whether he was cut out for top-level management. “Most of my career I have been killed for that [being nice], haven’t I?” he says, ruefully.

    Already he is discovering that the life of a successful England manager – or a semi-successful one, as he would say – means being asked about more than just kicking a piece of leather round a stretch of grass. There have been requests during this tournament for his opinions on Brexit. He has been asked about the Putin stand-off and whether, on his return to England, he will be setting out his vision for the way his own country is run. Gareth Southgate for prime minister, anyone?

    Another time, maybe. For now he would rather focus on the next match and, at the end of the tournament, his intention is “disappearing as quickly as I possibly can and staying out of the way of everything ... the nice thing is I might not have to travel as far away as I would have if we’d had a really bad tournament.”

    The point is not lost on him, however, that he is now an ambassador and spokesman for his country, with the power to influence people. “The players have that opportunity as well,” he says. “They have a voice, too. They can influence young people, especially from the areas where they came from. They can give hope to them. We’re not a team that just turns up, waltzing around, strolling around, thinking we’ve got an entitlement. We’re lads who have come from Barnsley and Leeds and Blackburn and that’s so important for Saturday because I always think Sweden like to point out that we’re paid this and that, and we’re the team of entitlement, when I really don’t think that is the case for this group.”

    Southgate made the same point in his team talk before the Colombia game. “It’s important we remember [England’s assistant manager] Steve Holland was at Crewe and I was at Crystal Palace when they weren’t quite as good as they are now. We’ve scrapped and fought our way. Most of our boys have played in the Championship or lower, whether they started there or played on loan there. We are having success because we are really grafting for each other – no passengers, nobody failing to close down, nobody strolling around. That’s the bedrock of why we are getting some decent results.”

    In the process, Southgate has taken a sledgehammer to the theory that managing England is the Impossible Job. “In life there are really complex, difficult jobs and some are more complicated and difficult than others. But when you look around at inventions, or records that have been broken, you have to tell yourself that anything is possible.

    “What’s impossible about it is to keep everybody happy. You know, governments get elected on 38% of the vote. We won the other night but I still had a couple of emails – and I have to change my address, by the way – saying: ‘Really good, but you should be picking this one and that one.’ So, I think: ‘Right, OK ... [blows out cheeks]’. It’s impossible to please everybody all of the time but you just have to believe that you’re making decisions for the right reasons.”

    His team selection for the Belgium match was a case in point, making eight changes in a deliberate ploy to involve his fringe players (reducing the possibility of splits behind the scenes) while making sure his first-choice XI was fresh for the next assignment. “I could easily have been distracted, influenced and affected by ‘Oh, if I make that decision that’s not going to be popular’, knowing it is going to open ourselves to criticism.” England’s 1-0 defeat that night did indeed lead to a flurry of hysteria from outsiders who could not grasp the logic.

    Yet it turned out, not for the first time, that maybe he knew best, after all. The World Cup has opened up all sorts of possibilities and Southgate’s players may be as grateful for that rest on Saturday as they were against Colombia. “We’re in a really good position. This might be one of the best opportunities we ever have and we don’t want to fall short by not being prepared or committed to what we’re doing. We’ve got 25 million people [watching on television] and we’re two games away from a World Cup final.”

    Heady times, indeed, and it is the way Southgate has gone about his business – modest, self-deprecating, generous with his time, always respectful – that has endeared him to so many people. His response, for instance, to being asked about the “slightly questionable lyrics” of the Atomic Kitten song that has been turned into a supporters’ chant in his honour: “Not as questionable as most of the lyrics of songs about me in the past, so long may that continue.”

    Spend any time in his company and you will hear him emphasise the “harmony” of his squad. After games Southgate always refers to the players who did not feature. He cares, he really does. “I am watching Phil Jones, Gary Cahill and Danny Welbeck train at such a high level and we won’t succeed without them. They are bloody unfortunate not to be in the side and it is only a consequence of the way we have been playing. You don’t succeed unless there is harmony, unless they push each other, and the lads recognise that.”

    Then there is the story of Fabian Delph, when Southgate wanted his player to fly back to England for the birth of his daughter, even though it would mean missing the Colombia game. Not every manager would have been so accommodating. Yet Southgate spoke beautifully at the time about the importance of family. “Delphy’s back now,” he reports, “and thinking of asking Hendo [Jordan Henderson] to christen the baby. He reckons that [Henderson’s missed penalty against Colombia] might have sent his wife into labour. Which, to be fair to Hendo, he has taken quite well.

    “It’s great. We have, as a group, been through so much already. Phil Jones’s wife giving birth, now Fabian’s. All the staff are away from their families for such a long period of time, as well. We know that what we are trying to achieve is huge and it’s easy for people to say: ‘Well, blimey, we’d all give up six weeks of our life to experience what you’re experiencing.’ Nevertheless, there is an impact and I am very conscious of that. It has been lovely to have some of the families come in, to have the kids around the hotel and meet the parents.”

    If the Football Association has any sense, the logical step is surely to make this a long-term project and trust Southgate in the way Germany have with Joachim Löw for the last 12 years. That appeals to Southgate, too. But equally he goes back to the point that he has been in football long enough to know how quickly perceptions can change.

    “In any club there comes a point – and it’s the same with the national team – where people have heard the message enough. They’ve listened to the soundbites. The players will want a different voice. The press and the public will want a different voice. That will happen at some point.

    “Yes, we’re trying to build something now but I know that can change and in international football the margins hinge on one or two games every two years. It’s a really fine dividing line and in a low-scoring sport, with random events that affect outcomes, there is a lot out of your control. I’m looking at Germany’s game against Sweden again and they do so many things right. Then a couple of things don’t quite happen and they’re going home. If he [Löw] hadn’t already won the World Cup and had a bloody good record he’d be gone the next day. That’s the reality of it.”

    For the time being it is enough that he has turned England into a fully functioning and genuinely likable team. When Southgate took over in September 2016, on an emergency basis, it followed Sam Allardyce’s 67-day reign, with England’s reputation not so much low as subterranean. The previous summer there was the defeat by Iceland in Euro 2016. The fans were bordering on mutiny. For Southgate, unashamedly patriotic, it was galling to see the disconnect between team and supporters. But no longer.

    “My belief was always that the desire for the national team was there but it was almost like we’d had so much pain we wanted to push it to one side and not admit it. You put things down because you don’t want to get hurt at times.

    “They [the players] have felt a bit of isolation in the past. They always felt they had to fight against [the public mood], rather than with. The feeling we all have now is that everybody wants it go well. And the public are with them. It makes a massive difference if you feel supported. I guess at a club you feel supported. Sometimes, with the national team, it hasn’t always felt that way.”

    And now here we are, one victory away from the possibility of emulating Bobby Robson’s team in Italia 90 by reaching a World Cup semi-final. Southgate’s eyes light up when Robson’s name is mentioned and he recalls a story about his first experience of club management. “He came to Middlesbrough to talk to me and give me support. It was very special for me because he recognised the difficulties of being a young manager. He was an absolute gent. I’d met him a few times as a player, too. I remember being injured once at Aston Villa and at half-time he walked 15 yards the other way from the tunnel to come and see if I was OK.”

    The reference to Middlesbrough takes him back to another time where, looking back, he wishes he had imposed the set of beliefs and values that he has with England, first with the under-21s and now the seniors. His team were relegated and, in the end, he lost his job. “Certainly I compromised a lot of that [philosophy] when I was with Middlesbrough.” Always self-critical, his conclusion is that he “wasn’t confident enough” on Teesside.

    That, however, feels like a long time ago now. Whatever happens on Saturday, Southgate has shown it is possible to embrace the England team again. And these are moments to cherish. “I’m bloody proud of being English and I’m so pleased that football has such a great ability to unite people and bring positivity in moments like this. That is really special. To effect something like that is really special.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/football...P=share_btn_tw

  2. #2
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    I really like Southgate as a manager, I thought he would flop to be honest, but I'm really pleased he's become a bit of a hero. He's the best sort of Brit and has all the values you would want in a leader so I hope his run continues, it won't be pleasant when the press turns on him, which they undoubtedly will at some point.

    The first line of the article brought back some memories. I still remember buying my first England kit when I was a wide eyed kid who thought it was the best thing in the world at the time.


    I for one welcome our new In____ overlords - Kent Brockman

  3. #3
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    For the latest updates on Cricket, follow @PakPassion on Twitter

  4. #4
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    Agreed. In the Semi-final of the World Cup we will be playing either Croatia or Russia. In most tournaments, you would not expect a semi final between England and Croatia/Russia. So we have to take our chance as in other tournaments, the big teams may do well. Come on England!

  5. #5
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    This is our best chance since - that year.

  6. #6
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    No doubt that England have a chance. All the real top teams have been eliminated. I think England will be losing finalists.


    PP's own self proclaimed sharpshooter and defender of Islam and Pakistan.

  7. #7
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    Hopefully our boys don't bottle it tonight in what is probably an easier semi-final match than other teams that you could potentially play in this stage of a world tournament!

  8. #8
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    London - Gareth Southgate has been rewarded for guiding England to this year's World Cup semi-finals with a new contract, the Football Association (FA) announced on Thursday.

    WATCH: Ronaldo has 20 days to answer sex assault complaint

    The 48-year-old's new deal will see him through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and see his pay rise to a reported £3 million per year.

    "I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the national team through the next two major tournaments," said Southgate, whose previous deal was due to expire after the Euro 2020 finals.

    "The job remains an incredible privilege and a true honour. Experiencing at first hand how the nation united behind the team this summer was something special and it will be great to see how far this young squad can go in the years to come."

    Southgate, who ultimately saw England beaten 2-1 by Croatia in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, said he was fortunate to have a great back-up team -- his assistant Steve Holland was also awarded a new contract, and the players performing on the pitch.

    "I must acknowledge the hard work and commitment of my staff and the players over the last two years," said Southgate.

    "I have learned a great deal from them and their passion and professionalism in representing England has been an inspiration to my own work."

    FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn said Southgate, who replaced Sam Allardyce after he left under a cloud only 67 days into the role in 2016, had restored genuine optimism in England's ability to be a viable contender for trophies.

    "Securing Gareth on a longer-term contract was always a priority for us," said Glenn.

    "He has performed remarkably well and has given everyone the belief that England can compete on a world stage again."

    https://www.sport24.co.za/Soccer/Int...tract-20181004


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