Gareth Southgate has got “everyone in love with England again”, says Alan Shearer, with decades of underachievement and disillusionment among supporters now a thing of the past.
Heading towards the 2018 World Cup, few Three Lions followers expected much from a success-starved nation.
Paper aeroplanes provided greater entertainment to those at Wembley than the action on the field, with England widely tipped to flop once more at a major finals after breezing through qualification.
Southgate was, however, to oversee a stunning reversal in fortune in Russia, as he guided his side to the semi-finals, and has now booked a place in the last four of the inaugural Nations League.
Former England captain Shearer is among those delighting in a return to prominence, with the ex-striker telling The Sun: “Every manager for 20 years before him has underachieved given the calibre of player at his disposal… not Gareth.
“There’s a good vibe about England, they are now entertaining to watch as well. It’s a team that’s unrecognisable from 13 months ago.
“Paper aeroplanes were being thrown by fans at Wembley during a 1-0 win over Slovenia last October that sealed qualification for Russia.
“But that was when Gareth was still laying the foundations for this England set up. You don’t just flick a switch to make an international side of note.
“The preparation, doing a job in a diligent way comes first, then winning games breeds confidence.
“Then you also need a manager with the courage of his convictions and a real belief in the team.”
Southgate has been that man for England, with fresh terms handed to him in October as just reward for the job he has done.
Shearer added: “For Gareth Southgate and his side, it’s just getting better and better… and the manager and coaching team deserve enormous credit.
“He’s carried on the good work from the World Cup in the summer and this [a 2-1 win over Croatia] was another brilliant performance and match.
“We beat Spain away when the pressure was off, now we’ve beaten Croatia at home when all the pressure was on.
“That sends a message to other countries, the big countries, when we play them again in the Nations League finals and beyond.
“They now know England are a force to be reckoned with. We belong at this level and are not fazed by this level of opposition any more.
“Before, when we came up against good teams, we struggled. Now we’ve beaten two of the best sides including the Spanish in their backyard, before breaking down a strong Croatia in front of the home fans.
“Gareth’s got the energy and belief going forward, that they can keep getting better and better.
“And why not? We’ve got game-changers now. We’ve got a top-class striker. We’ve got a goalkeeper and defence growing in stature with every game.
“It shows the great job Gareth is doing, everyone is in love with England again.”
England will discover their Nations League semi-final opponents when the draw is held on December 3, with the fixtures themselves set to be staged on Portuguese soil in June 2019.