There has been one very noticeable difference to Gareth Southgate during this World Cup: he rarely ventures out of the dug-out.
While the coaches of Iran, the United States and Wales have prowled the touchline cajoling and instructing their players, the England manager has largely remained seated.
It is, he has revealed, a very deliberate policy and is a far cry from Russia in 2018 when Southgate was constantly in his technical area, in his waistcoat, and encouraging his team. There is also none of fist-pumping celebrations with the fans that we saw at the last World Cup, although that may come in the knock-out stages.
The fact is now, in apparently an insight into the confidence he has in his players and the ease he feels, Southgate does not believe it is necessary – even in the USA game, when England were not performing well and were under pressure, or in Tuesday's first-half when they laboured to break down Wales.
“I got into a bit of a habit during Covid of standing out there (on the touchline) because you felt they (the players) needed more encouragement at the side of the pitch without the fans,” Southgate explained. “But I'm happier just biding my time and taking my moments really. I don't really need to be playing every ball for the players. I trust them and it has been nice to sit and watch a little bit more.”
It is unusual, though, as Southgate acknowledged: “Yeah, in the modern game you see quite a lot going on at the side of the pitch. Look, it won't be for some but I don't feel that I need to be out there to play every ball with them, they know what they are doing, they are prepared, they know I'll be there when they need me and also we have got the (pitchside) monitor where we can watch everything with a slight time delay if things happen when you've got to make some tactical decisions.”
It contrasts sharply not just with other coaches at this tournament but also with what happens in the Premier League. Indeed in an interview with Fifa, Trent Alexander-Arnold compared the styles of Southgate and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp who is probably the most animated manager on the touchline. Not that one style is right and the other is wrong, and obviously no-one would suggest Klopp’s approach does not work, but there is a calmness about Southgate.
The irony is that calmness will be used as a stick to beat him with should England exit this tournament in the last-16 when they face Senegal on Sunday – why does he not show more passion? Why is he not more animated? However, it is a deliberate policy.
Indeed against the USA, Southgate even allowed a ball-boy to sit close to him, oblivious to his presence, until he was ushered away by a Fifa official.
It is about staying grounded. Southgate’s reasoning is England went into the last World Cup simply trying to make it better after the debacles in 2016 and 2014 – with the hope of finally again winning a knock-out game, which they achieved on their way to the semi-finals in 2018 and then final of Euro 2020. He needed to re-energise England. But now it is about being more focussed and it is interesting to hear from midfielder Kalvin Phillips on how Southgate keeps the players calm.
“It's hard sometimes but we have a good group, good coaching staff, good managers who will always keep us grounded - especially [assistant manager] Steve Holland,” Phillips said. “We won't get too high about it, we'll be happy about the result but we're just going to rest up and focus on the next one.”
It does appear then that there is something of a ‘good cop/ bad cop’ involving Southgate and his assistant, Holland, who enjoyed years of success as a coach at Chelsea including winning the Champions League and Premier League titles.
Southgate has also discouraged his staff and the England substitutes from over-celebrating. There have been scenes at this World Cup of benches all running down the touchline when a goal is scored with it all appearing chaotic. Southgate does not want that.
It is a deliberate strategy to appear focussed and in control but also to not allow moments to become too big. Southgate has talked about this being the “noisiest” World Cup he has ever been involved in with the off-field controversies and political and human rights dimensions and this has transmitted itself, at times, onto the pitch.
He has therefore trained himself, instead, to be more contained but also to try and be relaxed given his genuine belief that England can go all the way and win this. “I have been determined to enjoy the tournament, I am enjoying the tournament. It is a great group of players and staff to work with,” he said.
Southgate: We know expectations will lift after Wales win
By Mike McGrath
Gareth Southgate expects the nation’s World Cup expectation to rocket after reaching the do-or-die knockout stages of the tournament.
England players had a day off training on Wednesday and some spent time with family while others ate together in Doha’s high-end restaurants as they prepare for Sunday’s clash at Al Bayt Stadium against Senegal.
After reaching the semi-final four years ago and the European Championship final, hopes of ending the wait for a major trophy will rise after finishing top of Group B with nine goals and seven points from matches against Iran, USA and Wales.
“We know what the build up to the next game will be like, we know the expectation will lift,” said Southgate.
“Look, we’ve scored a lot of goals. I think we’ve had control of large parts of all of the games we’ve played. Defensively we've been very strong in the last two in particular so that's a good platform and, as I said, there’s competition in all parts of the pitch which is really important.
“We are hoping to do that in every game we play. We've played possession football for a long period, we are going to have a different challenge but a lot of their players play in Europe so they are used to the style of play.”
During the win over Wales, England fans were singing “Jingle Bells” as they dream of a winter World Cup triumph. “That won’t have happened at a World Cup before,” said Southgate.
“We had fantastic support in the stadium, that reminded me of tournaments I played in where you've got that bank of fans and it's very special feel as a player to run out and hear that, to experience it, so great for them that we were able to give them the result because you know it’s a game if we don't win we’re still talking about in about 30 years’ time.
On the Senegal clash, he added: “I'm not sure we have got nothing to lose, I'm not sure if that is ever the case. I have been determined to enjoy the tournament, I am enjoying the tournament.
“It is a great group of players and staff to work with. We have got to keep them on track, there will be players who feel really great tonight, some who will feel disappointed and that is an ongoing process for us.
“What they are achieving, they have got the first objective done and when you look back they've done that pretty clinically.”
Kalvin Phillips said he has been sent footage of his friends celebrating at home as England sealed a pathway that could see them face France in the quarter-finals should they win at the weekend.
“I’ve seen a few videos,” Phillips said. “I think you saw it at the Euros. We had the home support at near enough every game and how much it drove us on. I just hope the fans are happy about the result and they are partying back home which is a nice thing to see. Happy we got the result and happier.”
Meanwhile, Phil Foden says he felt pressure to perform after the clamour for him to start against Wales.
He said: "It is hard not to hear what everyone is saying but at the same time I try not to read too much and just try to be me and be humble and work hard.
"I felt a little bit of pressure going into the game to be honest because everyone was pushing for me to play. I just tried to remember to relax and play my own football.
"I was raring to get the start and thanks to Gareth, he started me against Wales. I thought that all the wingers had scored and 'when is it going to be my chance'? So to get the opportunity to play in such a big game and to score was extra special."