Gareth Southgate: 'Managing England has been the greatest privilege of my life'
Gareth Southgate has described managing England as the greatest privilege of his life and has reiterated that his desire to make history with the team burns as brightly as ever.
Southgate took charge of the Three Lions in October 2016, with the country 14th in the FIFA world rankings, having not won a knockout game at a major tournament for a decade.
In his maiden senior tournament, Southgate guided England to the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup before just missing out on a first major trophy since 1966 when the Three Lions lost on penalties in the UEFA EURO 2020 Final.
England impressed once again during the 2022 FIFA World Cup and were widely considered to be the better side when they exited the tournament at the quarter-final stage against eventual finalists France.
After the tournament, Southgate wanted some time to consider if he would carry on managing England, with his contract running until December 2024, before it was announced a week later that he would be looking to remain in charge.
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This week, Southgate sat down with the BBC and ITV to discuss his decision to stay and the Emirates FA Cup, with the fourth round proper taking place this weekend.
“I am in a job with the chance to make some history and I have the privilege of leading the national team," he said.
“It has been an unbelievable experience and I think we have made progress with the team across the years we have been in charge and I'm determined to try to drive the team to that next step.
“It has been the greatest privilege of my life to lead my country and I am very conscious of that honour.”
England endured a difficult summer as they failed to win any of their UEFA Nations League matches and suffered a 4-0 defeat to Hungary in front of a home crowd at Molineux.
But in September, an impressive second-half showing against Germany provided renewed confidence among the players and lifted the mood around the Three Lions heading into the World Cup.
England then performed well in Qatar and despite exiting the tournament at the quarter-final stage, there was positive sentiment around the team’s displays and the role Southgate had played.
When asked if the support he received post-tournament was key to the decision to stay on, Southgate replied: “It definitely lifts you when you go out of a tournament that you've been working towards for four years.
“The moment you depart is really difficult to take and you know the steps you have to take for the next one. But I don’t think you can make decisions as a manager just from having support from everybody because you are never going to have the support of everybody – governments get elected on 30 per cent of the vote and it's the same with the England manager.
“I'm not worried about coming through those periods like last Autumn when the heat is on and you have to deal with it because it's important that you show the players that you can handle that. But of course, it's better for the team if everybody is [on board] with where we are heading and if everyone, or the majority, are showing belief in what we're trying to do because the team feed off that positivity and energy.”
While his current contract runs until December 2024, Southgate also has England's long-term development in mind.
“Whenever I leave this role, I'm still an England fan and want them to do well,” he said.
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“I don’t have a problem with whatever the succession might be and England doing well once I've gone because no manager is going to be around forever.
“It's a privilege to do the role and I feel the team are still in the process of improving. We have some exciting players who are getting better, we're able to play closer to our best level in these knockout games now, and we're playing with a lot more freedom in those moments, which is a good thing.
“We're getting more experience of those latter stages of tournament which for the next generations is going to be important. The expectations are higher and that's a good thing.
“I'm never worried about someone else taking over and benefitting. That's how it should work. We're talking about building a future for England for now, for the next few months and the next tournament but also beyond that because that has always been the body of work here.”
With England finishing as runners-up at EURO 2020, currently ranked the third-best team in Europe and pushing World Cup finalists France so close in December, Southgate acknowledged there is an expectation of victory at EURO 2024 in Germany.
But he also stressed there is still a lot of work to do to make the tournament, with Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta in their qualification group.
England kick off their EURO 2024 qualifying campaign in Italy on Thursday 23 March before hosting Ukraine at a sold-out Wembley Stadium connected by EE on the Sunday.
And Southgate said: “I think now we are in a different landscape to any previous England team I guess.
“Because of the success we've had, in our own minds, winning is the only thing which is going to fulfil us.
“Of course, if that is the only way we are judged as a team, then it's very difficult for the team to succeed but that has to be the challenge for us.
“We've been so close now, we've been consistent across three tournaments to a level where only France have had collectively better tournaments – and even they only managed a semi-final in the EUROs.
“That's the challenge for us and I know that the desire is to win and that is how I feel about it as well.”