'Resilience and high IQ': FA gives full backing to England manager Gareth Southgate

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Gareth Southgate - FA chairwoman backs Gareth Southgate, insisting he would be a chief executive in business world - AP
Gareth Southgate - FA chairwoman backs Gareth Southgate, insisting he would be a chief executive in business world - AP

Football Association bosses have launched a staunch defence of Gareth Southgate after sitting down with the England manager after the 4-0 Hungary defeat to tell him his job is safe.

Debbie Hewitt, the governing body's chairwoman, urged fans who booed him to remember how the most successful boss since Sir Alf Ramsey had transformed the national team "beyond recognition".

In a wide-ranging first full briefing since stepping into the role last year, Hewitt also revealed tougher sanctions will be in place by the start of the season to a recent surge in pitch invasions.

She also promised England would not turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Qatar at the World Cup this winter. The nation will "unite with other federations" to "shine a light" on the plight endured by migrant workers in Qatar.

Hewitt, a former chairwoman of the Restaurant Group, is the first woman to hold the post at the FA and she spoke passionately of her belief that Southgate remained unquestionably the right man to be leading the national team. "I don’t just work in football, I work in business and I’ve worked with a lot of chief executives and Gareth’s skills – his high IQ and high EQ – would make him a chief executive in any sphere," she said. "And that resilience and accountability, the two qualities I admire most about him, is he takes the accountability, there’s no slopey shoulders, he doesn’t huff, he’s resilient and that’s what you want in an England manager.”

She was speaking a week after the manager was taunted with chants of "sacked in the morning" and "you don’t know what you’re doing" from a minority of fans as England collapsed to a thumping 4-0 defeat at Molineux.

England fans at Molineux - GETTY IMAGES
England fans at Molineux - GETTY IMAGES

Southgate had since vowed to take inspiration from the likes of the late Sir Bobby Robson – who also saw fans turn on him – and Hewitt said she had also given him a recent pep talk to make sure he is okay.

"The bit people don’t see as much is the Gareth at camp and the culture he’s created," Hewitt said. "Certainly prior to Gareth being the manager of England there was not the pride of wearing the England shirt. There were the club rivalries we’d read about. The players not getting on. He’s changed that beyond recognition and I’ve seen that first hand."

Southgate has told Hewitt he will learn from England's humiliation against Hungary and worst home defeat since 1928. “Gareth’s reaction, as in everything with that sort of conversation, was that it is his accountability, there’s always something to learn," she said of their meeting. "That’s why it’s refreshing working with somebody like that because that openness to learn is quite remarkable and quite unusual in any sphere." Southgate signed a new deal last November which keeps him in post until the end of 2024, but Hewitt said any debate over the timing of the decision was a “red herring”.

“We have confidence in Gareth for all the reasons I described and I think that’s the important thing," she added.

Hewitt also expressed concern over the "worrying and ugly trend” of pitch invasions, which led to dangerous scenes at play-off semi-finals, after Everton beat relegation and even during Manchester City's title celebrations. The FA, Premier League and EFL are now expected to announce potential partial stadium closures for such offences a week before the start of the season.

“The pitch is sacred and players, match officials and coaches have to be able to play in a safe environment," Hewitt added. "If you look at some of the footage at the end of last season, it was disturbing and anything but safe for those players and indeed for some of those fans that invaded the pitch. It’s a huge concern and we are working to put in place the toughest possible sanctions that we can. I was at a session with all of the Premier League clubs a week or so ago and every club in that room were [saying] ‘we have to put in place tougher sanctions’.”

Migrant workers in Qatar - GETTY IMAGES
Migrant workers in Qatar - GETTY IMAGES

Ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, Hewitt insisted migrant workers would prefer England were there "shining a light" rather than boycotting the event. Mark Bullingham, the FA's chief executive, will be part of a Uefa working group looking at how to handle human rights issues. “If there’s a positive to come from a World Cup held in Qatar then it is the opportunity to give the migrant workers their voice and that’s the way they see it," Hewitt said. “Having sat down and spoken with them and having seen where they work, having seen the conditions, having seen where they live and having heard some of the experiences they’ve had, if you ask them the question point blank: would you rather us boycott or would you rather us be here shining a light? They say, certainly the very significant number that I have spoken to, would say, ‘We want you to shine a light.’

“I think that responsibility – united with other federations – comes back to leaving a legacy behind that shines a light on the issues and can put in place some solutions and that can overall be a positive thing.”

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