Gareth Southgate has transformed England... could he make the same impact back in the Premier League?

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·6-min read
Gareth Southgate has transformed England... could he make the same impact back in the Premier League?
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Gareth Southgate is the right man for the right job at the right time, so we are led to believe.

The England manager was assured of his position beyond the next World Cup well before securing the nation’s first major tournament final for 55 years.

Not that the Football Association (FA) was pressured into trying to tie down his future, with even chief executive Mark Bullingham revealing there had been no serious interest in Southgate from club sides.

The obvious question is why?

He may not be the leading candidate to succeed Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, but in a summer when jobs became vacant at Tottenham and Everton, it is remarkable that he was not in the picture for either.

Even before England’s heroics at Euro 2020, Southgate had already led the Three Lions to a World Cup semi-final and provided the statesman-like leadership that surely any club chief executive would value.

Southgate has altered the culture and effected massive change in an institution that had largely known only failure for the best part of 50 years. His championing of modern ideas and modern footballers is at the heart of England’s success that has led them to within touching distance of being crowned champions of Europe.

In an era when fan engagement is considered so important to clubs that social media executives are a vital part of the management structure, what of Southgate’s ability to sweep a nation along with him at back-to-back tournaments?

What price can you put on that kind of social influence?

Increasingly it feels like the categorisation of Southgate as having found his ideal job is a way of damning him with faint praise.

As if a weird alchemy is produced when he is put in this specific setting – but the demands of club football would somehow be too much.

In his typically measured way, Southgate acknowledges his suitability to the England role – but he is also eager to stress the point that, fundamentally, he is judged by what happens on the pitch.

Notably he adds that the pressures associated with his job – albeit every two years – eclipse even those of the biggest clubs in the land.

He said: “Meetings I have in the week go from intense tactical discussions to something about junior teams to the NHS – I think that’s unique. Clubs have a lot of issues to deal with, but I don’t think to quite the same level.

“The big clubs have massive scrutiny, but we’re always the biggest show in town when we play – so in those moments we’re even higher than our biggest clubs.

“But also 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 and 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.”

Even in his final days of preparation for the game against Italy, Southgate is dealing with non-football matters relating to his role as an institutional figurehead.

“Today within 30 minutes there were messages with opportunities to help, or thanks for being involved in, charity projects,” he said on Friday. “So there’s the influence you can have in those areas, the leadership aspect which I know is important for the country at the moment because I know we can make people’s lives happier.

“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.”

Since taking the reins following the humiliation of Euro 2016 and the shambolically short reign of Sam Allardyce, Southgate has been so much more than just a manager.

He has been the acceptable face of the FA as they tried to steer their way out of another national footballing disaster. He has effectively been a sporting director – scouting the best emerging talent, from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka to Jude Bellingham and Kalvin Phillips, and determining a style of football that would not only connect with fans, but bring success.

Again - it what way would those qualities not appeal to a Premier League club with genuine ambition?

He has a clear idea of what an England team should represent.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

“With the national team it’s different to a club,” he added as he sat in the sunshine at England’s St George’s Park headquarters. “Some clubs have clear identities and I think they are powerful because of that.

“We have a view of what being English should represent and standards we want to hit. You still have to win football matches.

“If you don’t, those messages and things we stand for don’t have the same impact. “I couldn’t say this was always the clear vision, but the longer I have been in the role, the more I’ve understood the importance to our fans of that connection with the team.

“What hit me coming back from Russia was families coming up to me on the street, people coming up to me on the street from all backgrounds of our country and saying they felt they could go to a game now and not be abused at the stadium and connect with the team. They felt part of it.”

Southgate is self-aware enough to know what the general opinion of him has been. A nice guy. An FA “suit.”

Things came together in Russia – largely aided by a favourable draw – but England and Southgate were found wanting in defeat to Croatia.

By going one step further this time, he is due the respect his record deserves – and perhaps one or two Premier League clubs will have him firmly in mind if their season gets off to a difficult start.

Yet Southgate is not satisfied by reaching a final.

“I know it won’t be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don’t win it now,” he said. “You get lovely messages that say whatever happens now. But that won’t be how it will be on Monday.

“I get the story, but it’s been about how can we keep progressing, how do we push this team as far as we think we can? And I think we’re in a position we deserve to be in over the course of the tournament and I think we’ve got a 50-50 game against a really tough opponent. We’ve got to get it right.

“We can win it, but we’ve got to get it spot on to win it.

“I said to the players yesterday all of these other bits - the legacy bits - they have achieved. People are respecting how they’ve been and respecting that they have represented the country in the right way. But now they have a choice of what colour medal?”

A new contract will be waiting for Southgate to sign regardless of the result in Sunday’s final.

But the FA may not be the only ones asking him to put pen to paper.

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