Gareth Southgate reflects on five-year anniversary as England manager
Today marks the fifth anniversary of Gareth Southgate taking permanent charge of England men’s senior team and is a chance to reflect on the progress which has been made under the 51 year old.
“Confidence was low,” Southgate acknowledged when asked about taking charge, initially on a four-game interim basis and then permanently on November 30 2016, following the departure of Sam Allardyce and before him Roy Hodgson.
“This was not a group which was disunited but there was a lack of confidence because of the last couple of tournaments and two changes of manager in a couple of months, so we needed to stabilise things to begin with and we needed to qualify for a World Cup.
“That was the priority but of course what we knew in the background was there was a younger generation of players coming through to support the guys who were already there that could provide real competition for places, with some good experiences of winning at junior level; technically really good players that could maybe play in a slightly different way to traditional England teams of the past, where I was in tournaments with England where we couldn’t keep the ball enough.
“Now in the biggest games we have a step to go with that because we have managed that for long periods in tournaments but under real pressure we still need to be better at that.
“You have to have continuity. You need a real clear sense of direction for everyone who works at St. George’s on the football and for everybody at the FA. I think it is a credit to everybody, the different chairman and chief executives I have worked with here, that they have put football more at the forefront of their thinking and there has been a plan.”
Southgate enjoyed a successful playing career, captaining Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough on his way to collecting 57 caps for his country.
The Watford-born former defender was parachuted into club management quicker than he expected at Middlesbrough at the age of just 35 but guided the club to a 12th-place finish in the Premier League, before leaving after their relegation to the Championship following his third season.
Southgate first joined the FA as head of elite development, where he worked with several age group sides and on developing grassroots football during an 18-month stint.
Two victories and two draws in his four games in interim charge, which included a 3-0 victory over neighbouring Scotland and a 2-2 draw with Spain, resulted in Southgate being asked to take the reins permanently.
England have enjoyed continuing progression since, with Southgate leading his country to a World Cup semi-final in Russia in 2018, a third-place finish in the UEFA Nations League and then this summer, was a penalty shoot-out away from lifting England men’s senior team’s first major trophy since the World Cup in 1966.
Southgate’s contract extension earlier this month until the end of 2024, having secured qualification for next year’s World Cup in Qatar the week before, gave the manager a chance to reflect on his reign during an episode of Off The Pitch with Josh Denzel.
The presenter was walking around the pitch at Wembley Stadium connected by EE when he paused and asked Southgate about the scenes after the UEFA Euro 2020 semi-final victory over Denmark, as players and staff celebrated with their friends, family and supporters in the crowd.
Southgate said: “It is strange because this period now since we have qualified is one of the first times we have had the chance to really sit and think about those things.
“So just you saying that, it did take me back to a special night. To take a country to a first final in 55 years, for everybody involved, for all the staff, all the players and for all the fans, some of those memories of Wembley through this summer will live with me forever.
“Russia [World Cup] we brought a connection back with the fans. There were probably several generations of fans who had not been to a semi-final. This year was unique really when you think we had been locked away for so long and everything we had lived through…
“There is an important place for international football. It does bring everyone together. When you feel like you are there with 50 million people behind you, it is an immense feeling.
“People used to say ‘well nobody cares about international football anymore’ but they did. I think everybody had just been hurt and disappointed a lot and you almost don’t want to get hurt anymore and you withdraw from it.
“Now we have some generations of fans who think it has always been this way, well let me tell you folks, it hasn’t!” Southgate said, laughing.
His assistant manager Steve Holland, who worked with some of the world’s most renowned coaches during his time at Chelsea, has also extended his contract until December 2024.
With Champions League, Europa League and Premier League titles to his name, Southgate stated ‘there isn’t a better qualified or more successful coach in English football’ than Holland and praised all of his backroom staff for the role they have played during his time in charge of the national team.
He also thanked the supporters for the way they have embraced not only him but also the players during the last five years.
When asked if he had a message for the fans, Southgate replied: “Really, in the end, I think it is the response of people as I have travelled around the country and spoken to people about what the team has meant to them and their appreciation for what we are doing, that gives you the enthusiasm to carry on.
“I thank the fans for how they have been with me and how they have been with the players because they create an environment that allows the players to go and succeed.
“The noisier this place (Wembley) is and the more the players feel the love from the supporters – which has not always been easy for England teams – then the better chance we have of the team playing well and if they play well, then we have a great chance of winning football matches.”