I had a very strong opinion on Southgate when he took over as England manager… but I’ve completely changed my mind | The Sun

WHEN Gareth Southgate was appointed England manager six years ago, one pundit was incensed.

"There are legions of better managers than Southgate in the world," he raged on talkSPORT.

"The objective should be dragging the England team out of its abyss and dragging us kicking and screaming under the tutelage of a brilliant, dynamic new manager into the next phase of our existence. Instead, we’ve gone for the easy option, the cheap option by the strict criteria of: he’s got to be English and barely useless, and I don’t get it."

The furious pundit added: "I only know Southgate as the guy who starred in pizza adverts when England were humiliated in the past."

Who on earth was this half-witted imbecile, I hear you cry.

Well, confession time…. it was me!

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I wasn’t the only one unimpressed.

"I like Gareth Southgate," said Harry Redknapp. "He's a great lad, but what's he done?"

We were both wrong to doubt him.

Southgate has become the second most successful England manager ever, after 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsay. 

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He's managed 81 games, winning 49 of them and boasting a 61.3% win percentage, and he guided us to a World Cup semi-final in 2018 and the 2020 European Championship final.

But now, after England crashed out to France in the quarter-final stage of this year’s World Cup, the criticism has moved from "what’s he done" to "what’s he won?"

It’s a legitimate question.

I’ve always believed that high-level football is about winning trophies, otherwise what’s the point of competing?

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But as we collectively lick our wounds after another bitter Three Lions disappointment, the important questions for me are these:

  1. Could Southgate have done any more to succeed in Qatar?
  2. Can he drive this team to glory in the next big tournament, the 2024 Euros in Germany?’

And I think the honest answers are "No, and yes."

I thought England were excellent in this World Cup, fully justifying our billing as one of the favourites.

With the exception of our tepid performance against USA, we were thrillingly good in demolishing Iran, Wales and Senegal.

And we went toe-to-toe superbly well with current world champions France, a team packed full of players who’ve won far more big trophies at club and international level than our boys. 

In the end, we were done in by a shockingly bad referee, and by a rare moment of technical failure from our captain Harry Kane, who is statistically one of the world’s best penalty-takers and who’d already smashed one in earlier in the game.

I also think the French showed marginally more experience when it really mattered, as you would expect from an older group of players, many of whom won the last World Cup.

But there was a lot to be proud of, not least the way we nullified Kylian Mbappe, the best striker on the planet.

Trust me, our defeat won’t look so bad when – as I believe they will – France win it again this time.

So, Southgate has made us a team that can consistently compete with the best out there.

And when you consider how young so many of his brightest stars are – Bellingham, 19, Saka, 21, Foden, 22, Mount, 23, and Rashford and Rice, both 25 – then the future looks very exciting.

It’s not just on the pitch that Southgate has impressed me.

He’s also created a side that behaves impeccably, and respectfully, and shows an awareness of social issues that does them great credit, even if I find some of the armband-wearing virtue-signalling a bit overdone and pointless.

Their team spirit is terrific, and they all seem to carry themselves with a maturity beyond their years.

That’s down to Southgate, a thoroughly decent and thoughtful man who wants his players to do their country proud both with a ball and without it.

Aside from the fact that there are few credible English (I now agree we should have a home-grown boss) options, I genuinely believe he will win us a trophy

A year into his tenure, I met Southgate at an awards show.

"How’s the world’s most difficult, thankless job going?", I asked.

 "It’s…interesting!", he smiled.

"What’s been the biggest surprise?"

"When you’re an England player, you return to your club after a game and focus moves to that. But when you’re the England manager, the media attention, criticism and pressure never stops."

"You realise that unless you win a trophy, you’ll be mocked, abused, deemed a failure and unceremoniously sacked."

Southgate chuckled. "I do, yes…thanks for reminding me, though."

I met him again just before last year’s Euros when expectations were running feverishly high that England might finally bring it home.

"Pressure's on now," I laughed. "It's a fine line between hero and halfwit in your job…"

"And in yours," he retorted.

"Do you really believe we can be Champions?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, emphatically, fixing me with a steely-eyed glare of supreme confidence.

The certainty with which he said it made me believe it too, and we very nearly did.

Southgate, still only 52, is not just a nice guy with a good sense of humour and proper values.

He’s also proved himself to be an excellent manager, in charge of a group of very talented young players who want him to continue.

I do, too.

Aside from the fact that there are few credible English (I now agree we should have a home-grown boss) options, I genuinely believe he will win us a trophy.

And despite not winning one in six years, I don’t see many people mocking him, abusing him, branding him a failure – or angrily demanding he be sacked.

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Gareth Southgate’s made a lot of critics, including me, eat our sceptical words.

He’s earned the right to carry on.

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