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England boss Gareth Southgate said he did not see the Euro 2020 final as the end of his own redemption story as he looked back on his journey from penalty villain to national treasure ahead of Sunday’s clash with Italy.
The Three Lions boss has taken England to their first major final in 55 years and will now be looking to deliver Wembley glory, just as Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winners did in 1966.
Southgate took charge of the senior side just under five years ago in the wake of the Euro 2016 collapse against Iceland and the shock sacking of Sam Allardyce after just one game at the helm.
That caretaker role would become a permanent appointment two months later and since then the former international defender has not looked back.
Southgate guided England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and a third-placed finish at the inaugural Nations League finals a year later.
This summer he has gone one better, banishing the memory of his penalty miss in the Euro 1996 semi-final shoot-out defeat to Germany by taking the nation into the final.
Asked if the 25-year story arc from Euro 96 fall guy to successful manager was a tale of redemption, Southgate replied: “I could see why the sort of film script would be whatever.
“But it was strange the other night because once I’d finished embarrassing myself on the pitch, all I could think about, it wasn’t pinching myself, ‘We’re in the final.’ It was, ‘We’ve got to get this right now. How do we get this game right?’”
And who would play him in the film? “Well, it would be a good looking fella obviously,” he added with a smile.
Not a popular choice as manager initially due to his close ties to the Football Association, having been under-21 boss among other roles, Southgate had turned down the chance to take temporary charge in the past.
“I knew that when we have had difficult tournaments as a country, the FA come under scrutiny,” he said when asked about rejecting the position in June 2016.
“There is not going to be any enthusiasm for an FA man getting the job and I know people saw me as an FA man.
“I don’t mind that, by the way, because I think what the FA actually stand for – from grassroots football to people like Peter Sturgess, who takes our five-to-11 programme, to Nick Levett, who travelled around the country putting the smaller formats of the game out there – then if that’s what being an FA man is, then I’m happy to be accused of it, if you like.”
Southgate has spoken at length about Euro 96 this summer, ample opportunities arising thanks to the last-16 meeting with Germany and England reaching the semi-final stage at Wembley once again.
But asked what he would tell his 1996 self were he able to back and talk to him following his penalty miss, the 50-year-old Southgate had plenty to get across.
“I suppose if I was to be able to take something from that, if I’m talking to young people now, hopefully what they’ve seen is that those sorts of moments in your life don’t have to define you,” he said.
“If you’re trying to achieve extraordinary things, which our players are, then you’re into an environment that is a lot more hostile, and it can’t always be supportive.
“You’ve got to play in front of 90,000 people, you’re in the Colosseum and it’s the thumbs up or thumbs down. That can’t always be a cuddly, warm environment.
“So you’ve got to have resilience, you’ve got to develop resilience. Those experiences can help shape you if you respond to them in the right way and you apply context, which isn’t always easy.”
Southgate’s only other managerial role was with Middlesbrough, whom he took to a UEFA Cup final before being relegated from the Premier League and let go.
But he knows the role with England is much more than selecting a squad and picking the right team, although that will take precedence come Sunday evening.
“There are so many other facets to it,” he added.
“Today within 30 minutes there were messages with opportunities to help, or thanks for being involved in, charity projects.
“But then we’ve got to get the game tactically right because, although there is great pride in what we are doing and people are speaking really nicely about us, the professional in you knows the tactical role has to be spot on.
“We’re playing a team that hasn’t lost in 33 games. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to make a difference. But if you get any of those bits wrong it can fall down.
“It’s no use being able to speak about areas of society, if we don’t get the tactical bit right, the selections right, if we don’t manage the players the right way the house falls down. I know now this is a lovely period in many ways but we’ve got to get Sunday right.”