How Gareth Southgate made England fall back in love with football

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For the first time in years there is optimism around the Three Lions at an international tournament and a large part of the credit goes to the manager

England woke up this morning with a World Cup semi-final to look forward to for the first time in 28 years. More importantly, it’s Waistcoat Wednesday. Credit for both occasions must go to Gareth Southgate.

"I was not a renowned fashion icon in my playing career so it's strange to feel that way now!” he said on Tuesday. “I'm certainly proud of the support we're receiving. Our supporters have had a long time of suffering in terms of football.

“The enthusiasm they have for these players, they've been brilliant ambassadors for our country, it's great for them they've got some enjoyable moments playing for England now.

“Our country's been through some difficult moments in terms of unity, and football has the power to do that. We can feel the energy and the support from home, and it's a very special feeling for us."

The now familiar sight of Southgate studiously patrolling his technical area with his done-up waistcoat has inspired thousands to start their workday wearing one in tribute. It may be a small and silly homage but it is nonetheless a nod of genuine gratitude and affection towards the England manager, until now one of the most toxic positions in world football.

England have lost managers like Spinal Tap lost drummers. It hasn’t been the easiest job to survive and, perhaps, by the time Sam Allardyce was dismissed it was felt that Southgate could literally not fare any worse than those who had gone before him.

Expectations around the England team had scarcely been as low as they were when, in 2016, Southgate stepped in to steady the ship. But he was trusted and rightly so. The reasons for keeping him in place outweighed the temptation of going after a bigger name.

He was steeped in the culture of English football – as a player and a coach in the Premier League – but also in his role of head of elite development at the Football Association. In Southgate, the FA has a man who not only talks the talk about the much-vaunted England DNA processes but one who actually played a part in bringing them to life.

Sweden England

"It's been hugely rewarding,” Southgate said. “We know the academies are producing technically good players and we made a lot of changes with the national team, too many to highlight individually, to help us be successful.

“We believe we have to continue doing that, we have to evolve and improve. The experiences over the last few weeks, the milestones they've hit, they're a great reference point.”

These players can play football; it’s false to say they can’t. All of their outfield players at this tournament are drawn from the top six Premier League clubs plus Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire from Leicester. Every single one of them is capable of playing front-foot football, keeping the ball and playing under pressure.

They do it every week for Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger. They know what’s required to reach and win European finals, to win Premier Leagues and what’s needed for a consistent standard of performance. In Southgate, England have a man who believes in them to do it in the national shirt too.

“We're proud of the style, the intelligence,” Southgate said. “And we've performed under pressure with difficult games won in the last minute, with the extra time and penalties.

“We've made several pieces of history, our biggest win in the tournament, our first knockout win in 10 years, so we're just looking to keep breaking those barriers down. It's been an enjoyable journey and we want to keep it going."

Gareth Southgate Allan Russell England Sweden World Cup 2018

Players such as Danny Rose have spoken about the positivity of being around the England camp. That’s a far cry from the days of Michael Carrick who admitted to dreading call-ups under previous regimes. The players appear happy and contented around each other; whether that’s winning penalty shootouts or tossing rubber chickens around in training.

Above all, Southgate has a fundamental sense of decency that many in business or sport would have you believe is incompatible with success. The temperament of the manager and his staff on the touchline during that shootout win over Colombia was exemplary.

His reaction afterwards told you everything you needed to know about the man. He did not gloat, skip or jump around. First, he put his arms around the player who missed Colombia’s crucial spot kick - Matheus Uribe – and consoled him. His first-hand experience of missing a penalty for England in the Euro '96 semi-final against Germany left him unable to listen to “It’s Coming Home” .

But it’s different now. The song’s made a comeback and there’s no way for Southgate and his men to avoid it. But it adds a dash of optimism and sunshine to an England team whose recent tournament experiences have been desolation and embarrassment.

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The most recent of those involved a lot of these players at Euro 2016, which ended in defeat to Iceland. "Sometimes you have to go through difficult times and failures to learn and improve,” he said. “A lot of young players involved two years ago suffered huge disappointment.

“We could have ignored that and looked to the future but we felt it was important to unpick it and find out exactly why we've had 10 years since we won a knockout game. [There were] a lot of areas we felt we might be able to improve.”

Plus, it’s a perfect song for Southgate’s England and the hordes of dreamers going to work today in their navy waistcoats.

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