Alan Shearer interview: Gareth Southgate has been disrespected as England manager

Gareth Southgate looks on during a training session
Gareth Southgate is still criticised by many people in England - Getty Images/Eddie Keogh

Alan Shearer does not pause when asked. His message is clear when he declares it now or never for England and Gareth Southgate.

The European Championship is a tournament England are good enough to win. After so many near-misses, this is the ideal time with the perfect blend of players to end the long and agonising wait for another trophy.

The former England captain knows it will be tough. After all, there are at least six teams heading into the tournament “expecting to win it” and this is probably the “most competitive European Championship” yet. But that does not change his view.

Shearer does not intend to increase the pressure on Southgate, because this is what he thinks the England manager believes too. That is why he is predicting his former international team-mate will resign if they do not return as European champions next month.

Shearer, who will be at the tournament as a pundit for the BBC, is in a straight-talking mood, but he is also quick to argue that Southgate has been shown a lack of respect, given what he has already achieved and done as England manager.

“Gareth has brought back something that people shouldn’t underestimate,” he said, speaking from his hotel room in Germany. “He has made it enjoyable for players to play for their country again. That hasn’t always been the case, even in my day.

“When you look at the mess he inherited, if you look where they were when he took over and where they are now… they’ve been to a World Cup semi-final, they have been to a European Championship final and lost it on penalties.

“When you look at the late, great Sir Bobby Robson – and I know he got a lot of criticism as well – but when people look back, the amount of respect he had after getting to a World Cup semi-final against Germany, losing that on penalties, he was loved.

Alan Shearer, back row far right, standing next to Gareth Southgate before the Euro 96 match with Scotland
Alan Shearer, back row far right, standing next to Southgate before the Euro 96 match with Scotland - Getty Images

“It was the same for Terry Venables when he got to a semi-final in Euro 96 and lost that on penalties – Gareth has done just as well but doesn’t get that same level of respect from a lot of people.

“It was a shambolic situation when he took over, they’d just lost to Iceland in the Euros, that horrific performance, to be where they are now… but, and it is a big but, now there really is no excuse with this set of players he has.

“This is going to be England’s time. I don’t think we are going to have a better chance to win a trophy than this.”

England fans have convinced themselves of this before. They thought the same when England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1990 and again when they reached the semi-finals at the Euros in 1996. England as a nation thought they were as good as anyone under Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2004 and 2006, only to return chastised to the background noise of another repetitive tournament failure inquest. England were a quarter-final team, nothing more, fuelled by overconfidence before the tournament, crushed by our big-game shortcomings and infuriated by hard-luck stories after them.

England were World Cup semi-finalists in 2018, a Euros finalist in 2021, but they were beaten by France in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in Qatar. Another par score. The nation wants and needs more than that now.

Southgate has been more consistent in major tournaments than any England manager before him, but the last step climbing a mountain is always the hardest.

“I know there is Germany, there is France, Spain, Portugal and there is Italy,” explained Shearer. “But if you put our front six against any of those and we are as good if not better than them.

“When you talk about Kane, Saka, Bellingham, Foden and Rice, you’re talking about top, top players who would get into most if not every international team.

“It does feel a little bit like now or never for England. There is no doubt we also have questions defensively, but no international team is perfect. It might be a weakness in defence but without a shadow of a doubt England’s strengths far outweigh their weaknesses.

“It’s attacking players who win tournaments and England’s are the best around.

“We have to attack this tournament and I don’t mean gung-ho football. I get there are reservations around Gareth that he is too defensive-minded. He’s got to get the balance right but with the squad of players he has, he should be able to do that.

“There are probably six teams who are going into the tournament expecting to win it and it’s the most competitive Euros I can remember in that respect. That means, as much as I say we can win it, of course it won’t be easy.

“All the other countries will fancy their chances, but we have world-class players. For the first time in a long time, we go in with genuine hopes of winning a tournament.

‘We can’t have another situation like Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes’

“We have more world-class players than we have done before, but he’s got to work out how to get Bellingham and Foden in the same team and get the best out of them. He’s got to get them linking up with Harry Kane, because if England are going to win the tournament, Kane will have to win the golden boot or be very close to it.

“We can’t have another situation like we had with the Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes generation. That is going to be the most intriguing thing.”

Intriguing is one word for it. Stressful is another. We do not know if this is going to be England’s time, but there is hope Shearer is right.

Unless it is a disastrous tournament, and England exit before the quarter-finals, the Football Association wants Southgate to continue. Shearer does not think he will unless England lift the trophy.

“I feel like Gareth, if he doesn’t win it, he may well walk away,” he said. “I don’t think he will have to be pushed, he has already intimated that will be the case. He would leave with his head held high. He will be criticised if they don’t win it, but he has brought a sense of belief and happiness back to the national side and that is important.

“This England team is united, they all want to play for each other and for him. That hasn’t always been the case, there have been cliques and club rivalries, it was very different when I was playing. It seems a much more open dressing room and they seem much more of a team now.”

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