How Southgate transformed England

AFP Sport looks at how the 51-year-old Gareth Southgate has transformed his country's fortunes.

24 November 2021 | Sports


Five years after being thrown in at the deep end to tackle the chaos engulfing England, Gareth Southgate on Monday extended his time in charge of a team that is going places.

Southgate has been rewarded with a contract extension until the end of 2024 after leading the Three Lions to a first major tournament final in 55 years at Euro 2020, three years after a first World Cup semi-final since 1990.

Initially appointed on an interim basis, Southgate was seen as the squeaky-clean role model the Football Association needed after his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, was brought down by a newspaper sting that alleged he offered advice on how to "get around" rules on player transfers.

A three-year spell at Middlesbrough, which ended in relegation from the Premier League, and mixed results with England's under-21s was all Southgate had to offer on his coaching CV when he was appointed.

However, his calm presence has proved to be the perfect fit for a richly talented generation of players who have made England a force to be reckoned with again at international level.

For decades, England managers have bowed to the will of media and fans to cram the most talented individuals into the starting line-up, even at the expense of the overall structure of the team.

Paul Scholes retired from international football after years of being stuck out of position on the left wing to make room for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as a "golden generation" failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals of major tournaments under Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was in charge from 2001 to 2006.

By contrast, Southgate has been happy to leave an abundance of attacking talent on the bench.

Perfect leader

With captain Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling his tried and trusted pair up front, there were limited opportunities for Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford at the postponed Euros, staged earlier this year.

A crowd favourite, substitute Grealish even had to suffer the ignominy of being replaced after just 36 minutes of action as England made adjustments to see out their extra-time victory over Denmark in the semi-finals.

"There is a nasty side to Gareth and he was spot-on to do that," former England captain Alan Shearer said.

Southgate has been the perfect leader for a squad with a social conscience who are not content to let their football do the talking.

Under his reign, England players have had to cope with racial abuse in Montenegro and Bulgaria.

They began the tournament being booed by sections of their own fans for taking the knee as a protest against racial injustice.

"The most important thing for our players is to know we are totally united on it; we are totally committed to supporting each other," Southgate said at the time, standing up to complaints from leading politicians about ‘gesture politics’.

That moral stance will be under the spotlight in the coming year, given the concerns raised by human rights groups over the staging of the World Cup in Qatar.

"We will take the time to educate ourselves," Southgate said after sealing qualification last week. "If we feel that there are areas that we can highlight and help, then clearly we've always tried to do that, and we would do that."

Tactical nous

Southgate's tactical nous has consistently been questioned, but he has shown a willingness to adapt to what is required to win.

In Russia three years ago, the switch to a back five protected an inexperienced goalkeeper and defence.

Since then he has largely used a 4-3-3 to make the most of the wealth of attacking options at his disposal.

But he has also been willing to revert to the back five when needed to thrust forward his wing-backs to good effect.

The selection of a 5-3-2 for the Euro 2020 final quickly paid off when one wing-back, Kieran Tripper, crossed for another, Luke Shaw, to give England the perfect start in the second minute.

All that is left for Southgate to prove is that he can to go one step further in delivering England's long-awaited major tournament win.

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