IAN HERBERT: Gareth Southgate has restored pride in the Three Lions

IAN HERBERT: Gareth Southgate’s voice has been one of sanity, humility and intelligence throughout an England reign which has restored pride in the Three Lions. He will be sorely missed if he decides to step down

  • Images of the England team have been removed from the hotel after their loss
  • England crashed out of the World Cup are losing 2-1 to France on Saturday night
  • There was an photo of Bukayo Saka on an inflatable unicorn in the pool Euros
  • There was also a huge mosaic bearing the words, ‘Our England. Our Legacy’
  • Those pieces of art represent what Gareth Southgate has managed to achieve  

A man on a stepladder was taking down the images which England had hung around their Tivoli Hotel at Al Wakrah, and though there was a sadness in that, the wall-hangings provided a reminder of the brand of Englishness that Gareth Southgate has built into the national team.

There was an illustration of Bukayo Saka on an inflatable unicorn in one of the pool sessions at Euro 2020. There was a huge mosaic bearing the words, ‘Our England. Our Legacy’, beside hands of many colours and images of England: the late Queen, the King, a Tower of London Beefeater and the Angel of the North.

This was the hand of Southgate at work, a manager who has always emphasised the diversity of the squad and the way it cuts through the geographical divides of a country where so much wealth is centred in the south. They are the touches that will be missed if the FA’s attempts to keep him in post are not urgent enough and England goes continental again.

A man on a stepladder wasseen  taking down the images which England had hung around their Tivoli Hotel at Al Wakrah following their exit from the World Cup

Gareth Southgate and his team were seen leaving the hotel following their defeat to France

The grass is always greener. That’s the problem with football. The endless, self-defeating flux means there is always the next name: a Mauricio Pochettino or a Thomas Tuchel. Neither of those can hold a candle to the identity Southgate has forged in the team, while making them tournament challengers.

It was something he said in the German city of Dortmund, right back when it all began, that told you that this was going to be different. English football’s lunatic fringe had been at it again, occupying various pubs in the city to sing about ‘the RAF from England’ shooting German bombers down, and he chose that moment, the eve of his first match as permanent manager in March 2017, to challenge some established thinking.

The illustration of Bukayo Saka on an inflatable unicorn in one of the pool sessions at Euro 2020 (above) was taken down shortly after 

‘We’re an island,’ Southgate said that night. ‘We’ve got to get off the island and learn from elsewhere, look in the mirror and change the way we do things tactically, with our physical preparation, our style of play and our mentality.’

Though we didn’t know it then, his voice would become one of sanity, humility and intelligence through five unimaginably difficult years for our country. Before he arrived, no English football manager would ever have answered a question about the team helping salve national divisions caused by Brexit. Southgate did so with confidence on the eve of the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia.

‘Yes,’ he said in packed little press conference room at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. ‘The chance to connect everybody through football and to make a difference to how people feel… is even more powerful than what we are doing with our results.’

Southgate has been praised for his management of the England team despite their exit

He also talked that day about how ‘the FA’ had hired him, immediately qualifying his words to say it had been ‘the English FA’ — showing, in doing so, that England no longer viewed themselves as football’s reference point. Here was a humbler, infinitely more appealing world view.

His is a meritocratic team, built on hard work and creative energy — not an old boys’ club for time-serving types whom no-one dares to challenge.

Some of the team have an elite football academy education behind them. Others have gone through what you might call the game’s state system — the lower leagues — and that’s part of the beauty, too. It takes all sorts. Cream will rise to the top. He has also created a level of expectation England has not known for generations — England won six knockout games in major tournaments from 1968 to 2016. Southgate has won six from 2018 to 2022.

Didier Deschamps referred to Southgate as a ‘great coach’ during an interview last Friday

Speak to the French journalists whose side are now approaching a semi-final and you are struck by their surprise that Southgate is not a more feted character on England’s side of the Channel.

‘He’s smart. He’s one of the parts of your country that we really like,’ one of them observed yesterday.

Didier Deschamps seems to feel much the same. ‘If I understand correctly, not everyone appreciates him so much in his country,’ he said of Southgate last Friday. ‘He’s a great coach.’

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article