When respect = power

The understated, measured and calm approach of manager Gareth Southgate is certainly paying dividends for England.

When respect = power

The understated, measured and calm approach of manager Gareth Southgate is certainly paying dividends for England.

Notwithstanding a rather debatable penalty decision ‘ which even the most partisan of supporters would have to acknowledge as being fortunate ‘ Wednesday, July 7th, 2021 was certainly a red-letter day for English football. After 55 years of pain, the England team finally won a semi-final at a prestigious international tournament.

Four times since 1966 they have tried, but on every occasion have had to suffer the heartache of defeat. All four losses were closely run encounters and it’s sometimes easier to accept defeat when the margin is wide. Twice they lost in penalty shoot-outs, were once beaten in extra-time, and on the first occasion in 1968 conceded an 86th minute goal in a 1-0 defeat by Yugoslavia.

This time the gods were clearly on their side. In the first knock-out match against Germany, no one could believe that star striker Thomas Muller would miss the sort of chance he would normally put away with his eyes shut. And then there was the penalty decision against Denmark, after Raheem Sterling went to ground rather easily and VAR remained silent. They also played all but one of their matches at home.

That said, one vital part of the England success story has been the calm, outward demeanour of their manager Gareth Southgate. It’s hard to imagine the 50-year-old former defender having to resort to the infamous ‘hair dryer treatment’ during one of his team talks. 

It worked for Fergie, and probably many others, but it doesn’t appear to be Southgate’s modus operandi. Southgate’s respect has been built up over many years while working for the English Football Association (FA). In January 2011 he was appointed the FA’s head of elite development, before later managing the under-21s, and eventually the senior team.

He came into contact with many of the players currently in his Euro 2020 squad, long before being named boss of the England national team. Therefore, he didn’t have to shout and scream to get their attention and earn respect, because he already had it. Perhaps this type of dignified leadership is here to stay, with Southgate’s measured manner more Biden than Trump.

It has also been reported, many times, that this particular group of England players get along with each other well. They have managed to put club rivalries to one side, and the egos appear to be well under control, all of which seems to mirror Southgate’s own personality.

This definitely wasn’t the case with England’s ‘golden generation’ more than a decade ago. There’s a BT Sport podcast on YouTube in which Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Frank Lampard (Chelsea) and Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) talk about putting club before country.

They admit to keeping their distance from each other when the England squad met up, because they didn’t want to let slip any club secrets to the enemy. Even the friendship of Ferdinand and Lampard ‘ who were once part of the junior set-up at West Ham ‘ cooled during their England days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to exist in the same quantity as before, and much of the credit for this should be given to Southgate. But the celebrations shouldn’t start just yet. There’s still one more match left to play on Sunday, when the England squad attempt to make history by winning the Euros for the first time.

And if they do, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will become the new Gordon Banks, Harry Kane the new Geoff Hurst or Bobby Moore, and Gareth Southgate the new Alf Ramsey who also portrayed an air of calm during the tensest of moments. We all wait nervously to find out.

Andy Swales
Andy Swales

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