The ‘tailor-made saviour’ of English football
How much credit should Southgate get for England’s success? The Three Lions have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. And a classic English underdog is being heaped with praise.
The Cosmos Arena in Samara lay almost empty except for the 3,000 or so England fans who had ventured deep into Russia, virtually bankrupting themselves in the process.
Then, out came the waistcoated man they were all waiting for: England’s new hero — Gareth Southgate.
“Southgate you’re the one/ You still turn me on/ Football’s coming home again,” they roared, with the manager conducting them.
England are through to the World Cup semi-finals after beating Sweden 2-0. It was a controlled, disciplined performance with flashes of great quality. Now, England are favourites to beat Croatia and reach the final. It was not supposed to be this easy.
It is an extraordinary turnaround for Southgate, who was the pivotal man the last time England reached a major semi-final.
It was the European Championships in 1996. England, the hosts, faced a penalty shootout against Germany. After 11 successful spot kicks, the 25-year-old Aston Villa defender stepped up, needing to score. “Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you,” said commentator Jonathan Pearce.
But he missed. England were out. And Southgate seemed destined to go down in history as yet another gallant English loser.
The subsequent tabloid taunts gave Southgate a spine of steel. When he was appointed England manager in 2016, an apathetic nation raised its eyebrows. He was seen as the cheap option. But Southgate, now immune to media criticism, was determined to prove people wrong.
India Knight sums up the mood in The Sunday Times: “He has shown us the value of courtesy, kindness, hard work and that most derided of virtues, niceness. He has redefined not just how to be a manager, but how to be a man.”
He has reacted to his past not with bitterness, but with compassion. Following England’s last 16 victory, he comforted Colombia’s Mateus Uribe who had missed a crucial spot kick.
On the pitch, Southgate has blooded a new generation, encouraging his team to “create their own history”.
How much of the credit should he get?
Road to redemption
Most of it, say some. He has lifted English football out of the doldrums to give us a summer to remember, whatever happens next. The team bears all his hallmarks: likability, honesty and courage. He has proved an expert tactician: opponents constantly struggle with England’s system. And he has given unheralded players the confidence to shine.
As Southgate says himself, however, it is a team effort. It is the players, not the manager, who have to keep their cool under the highest possible pressure. Things have fallen into place perfectly for England: the draw has been kind and the manager and players work well together. Giving one person most of the credit is wrong.
- Will Gareth Southgate be remembered as England’s greatest ever manager?
- Do you learn more from successes or failures?
- Calculate how likely you think it is that England will win the World Cup. Show your working.
- Think of a famous film or novel that is a story of redemption. Write 500 words comparing it with the story of Gareth Southgate.
Some People Say...
“The underdog winning is the romantic position.”Malcolm Gladwell
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- England are through to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. They will play Croatia at 7pm UK time on Wednesday — a game they are expected to win narrowly. If they do, they will face either France or Belgium for the chance to win their first World Cup since 1966. Much of the credit for England’s success has gone to manager Gareth Southgate.
- What do we not know?
- How much of England’s success is down to the manager. Tournaments are highly dependent on luck and chance. Would people be praising Southgate had Mateus Uribe’s penalty crept just beneath the crossbar instead of slamming against it? We also do not know the answer to the biggest question of all: will England win the World Cup?
- Beating Sweden 2-0
- The goals came courtesy of Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was also instrumental, making a series of spectacular late saves.
- Aston Villa defender
- Southgate grew up in Sussex and started his career at Crystal Palace. He then moved onto Aston Villa before finishing his playing career at Middlesbrough, whom he later managed before taking the job of managing England’s under-21 side.
- Gallant English loser
- England lost on penalties in the World Cups of 1990, 1998 and 2006, as well as the European Championships of 1996, 2004 and 2012. Before the quarter-final against Colombia they had only won one — in 1996 against Spain.
- The cheap option
- Southgate will earn £1 million per year — one third of the salary of his predecessor Sam Allardyce. He will get a £1.5 million bonus if England win the World Cup.
- The draw has been kind
- None of the teams England have met so far in the tournament have ever won the World Cup.