Gareth Southgate’s understated goal celebrations prove he is a celebral and focused coach… the England manager produced a managerial masterclass to guide England to a 4-0 win vs Ukraine
- Even when England scored, Three Lions boss Southgate did not lose his focus
- Ex-Middlesbrough boss is showing he can manage a side through a tournament
- Opportunity to carve his name in football history will be driving his every move
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
In those giddy opening moments, as Harry Kane bounced through and the dreams of a nation soared, the man overseeing operations quickly corrected himself.
Gareth Southgate started roaring in celebration, his arms moving back and forth like pistons cranking into life. His actions would have been mirrored in every living room, every pub and every beer garden up and down the country. Almost immediately, though, he stopped rattling his fists.
It was the same again in the 50th minute. Kane had just launched himself to meet a cross from Luke Shaw, his header sending England careering into the European Championship semi-finals; while Southgate smiled and punched the air, it was nothing more than a fleeting moment.
Gareth Southgate’s understated reactions to England’s goals proved his focus as manager
England supporters reacted joyously to the country’s 4-0 quarter-final win against Ukraine
There was no getting lost in the occasion, no looking to the heavens or running down the touchline. Straight away, Southgate entered into a discussion with his trusted assistant Steve Holland and began making plans. With a 3-0 lead, surely this was a time to soak it all up and enjoy himself?
Looking at him in deep thought, refusing to lose his focus, it felt like a good point to revisit the first match he ever took charge of as an England coach – September 5, 2013, the Under-21s played Moldova in front of a crowd of 5000 at Reading. Saido Berahino scored the game’s only goal.
That game, a qualifier for the 2015 European Championships, was tense. England were naïve and guilty of almost throwing it away. Southgate made a point to his young players that night – two of whom were Luke Shaw and John Stones – about the need to be ruthless.
‘Sometimes you fear there will be a punch on the nose,’ Southgate warned. He has had to face conjecture throughout this tournament that he is a cautious manager; how he is reluctant to release the handbrake and, in some ways, that he has been lucky to have chance to lead a squad with so many talents.
Harry Kane (right) scored twice with further strikes from Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson
Southgate knows what his critics say but he never lets it impact his thinking. He is single-minded and as this campaign gathers incredible momentum, a momentum that threatens to take them all the way to a major final, it needs recognising how the manager has guided it here.
An international football tournament, in some respects, is the same as one of golf’s major championships. Yes, there will be some players who fly around the course, putting together a round of eight under par with a barrage of birdies, but what is the point if the following day is four over?
You win a major by plotting, by managing the course. You have to know when to take risks, know when to be respectful of the dangers and play it safe. At the end, you only ever remember the man in possession of the Green Jacket or the Claret Jug, you don’t remember the minutiae of all 72 holes.
What you have seen over the last three weeks is supreme course management from Southgate. There have been bumps and wayward drives – the war of attrition against Scotland, the laboured effort against Czech Republic – but when it matters, England have found their sweet spot.
But the former Middlesbrough boss (right) kept himself calm and saw the game out expertly
The knockout stages have been when this squad – and Southgate – have come into their own. They were liberated by the triumph against Germany and the manner in which they dispatched Ukraine stamped them down as potential finalists.
Plenty of people will be in no hurry to give England credit. They will argue that Ukraine were poor and England only did what they should have done but the pressure at this stage was huge and no 4-0 triumph should ever be belittled. This is as good a period as England have ever had.
Do not underestimate how much of this is down to Southgate. He has worked with all of these players over the last eight years; he knows their background, their families. He knows how their strengths, their weaknesses, when it is right to call up on them.
Take how he has managed Jadon Sancho. There was plenty of clamour for him to start one of the group games yet Southgate knew he would be needed and the effusive way he spoke about him before kick-off in Rome showed how he had handled the situation.
Sancho responded with a super display, full life and variety and speed. A player who was not committed to the group or following his manager’s lead would not have been able to play in such a way. Ukraine couldn’t cope with the Manchester United-bound winger.
During the build-up to this tie, Southgate revealed that he has not had any time to switch off. He’s in meetings from 8am to 11pm when not on the training pitch and there will come a point in a few weeks when he crashes into a comfortable chair with mental exhaustion.
Until then, however, he will stay in the zone. Denmark is next and – in the dream scenario – it will then be Italy or Spain next Sunday night when the opportunity to carve his name in history will be driving his every move.
‘Football’s good times do not get much better,’ Southgate said in Rome, back in 1997, when England drew 0-0 to qualify for the World Cup. If the next seven days go according to plan, he will have to reassess that statement.
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