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Gareth Southgate: The “nearly” man?
Playmaker

Gareth Southgate: The “nearly” man?

Gareth Southgate: The “nearly” man?

This week, Gareth Southgate extended his contract with England until 2024. But will he always just be the “nearly” man?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, a game of inches for Gareth Southgate.

***

Earlier this week, Gareth Southgate extended his contract with England until 2024. 

His previous deal was until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but now he will see the team through to qualification for the Euros in 2024 at least.

“I was very happy to commit to a project that I really believe in, where I feel really well supported. Erm… and trusted by the people I work with, by the organisation, and that was hugely important.” 

Sky Sports

And he’s earned it, hasn’t he? 

He’s taken England to a World Cup semi-final followed by a Euro 2020 final.  He’s the most successful manager since Sir Alf Ramsey. 

And that’s not all.  Arguably, Southgate has learned to deal with the scrutiny of the press – and the hype surrounding the England team – better than his predecessors. 

And he shields his players too, especially those who’ve been racially abused. Ask yourself: have England ever had a manager who’s spoken so openly about football’s ugly side?

“You know, in the end I think I try to protect my players as much as I possibly can. I’m not the authority on the subject. I’m a middle aged white guy talking about racism. It’s… it’s not something that I really have… I’m just finding it a really difficult subject to broach because I want my players to enjoy playing football and not be scarred by experiences.”   

Guardian

He’s done things differently. There were the inflatables in the pool, his readiness to learn from other sports – like the NBA and NFL – to work on set plays. And of course there was the waistcoat.

“Last one from me… have you chosen which waistcoat you’re going to wear against Spain?”

“I’m not sure I’ll ever wear a waistcoat again, frankly.”

Guardian

We could make a long podcast about everything that Gareth Southgate has achieved, and overcome, as England manager. 

Because there’s no doubt he’s one of the best we’ve had. 

But as Southgate knows all too well, success breeds expectation, and expectation means pressure, and pressure results in criticism when results don’t go your way.

“How much responsibility should Gareth Southgate take for this defeat?”

“Lots. Because they were too negative. I mean, they were super negative in this final. The criticism of him, in his tenure, is that he’s too pragmatic. He’s brought them an element of success in terms of a semi-final and now a final, but ultimately there’s no trophy. But… pragmatism came back to haunt him because pragmatism became negativity, it became defensive…”

ESPN

So while Gareth Southgate deserves praise, he can’t escape criticism.  

There are some who question whether he’s got what it takes to succeed.   

Has he got that killer instinct, the ruthlessness needed to win at all costs?

It reminds me of the Al Pacino film about American Football, Any Given Sunday

In his famous locker room speech at the end of the film, he tells his players:

“You find out life’s this game of inches… so is football. 

“Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. 

“I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. 

“They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.”

In reaching a semi-final and then a final in back-to-back tournaments, Gareth Southgate has laid down a marker. 

He’s laid the groundwork for success. The talent in the squad is abundant. 

But should England fail in the World Cup in 2022, Southgate will be labelled the “nearly” man.

Yes, he may have a contract which takes him beyond the World Cup but the tournament feels like “make-or-break” for Gareth Southgate.. 

Can he prove his doubters wrong? Has he learned from his mistakes?

We’ll know soon enough but it’s going to be a game of inches.

Today’s episode was written by me, Chloe Beresford, and produced by Studio Klong.