Everyone has hypotheses about Gareth Southgate and the way he had/s brought success to the England football team.
I had stopped watching football for a long time, sick and tired of the thuggery on the pitch.
The last time I saw ‘intelligent’ precision football being played by the England team was a long time ago, under the management of Terry Venables. Southgate was a member of Venables’s team and he famously missed a penalty kick in the UEFA Euro 1996 semi-final against Germany.
Commentators seem to agree that the current young England team have been playing intelligently and with discernible teamwork. My view is that Southgate has managed to transfer some of this intelligent playing learned from the venerable Venables to his current young team.
At post-match interviews after beating Sweden I found the goal-scorers completely without airs and who spoke in good standard English, quite the opposite to the prima donnas that dominated English football post-Venables.
These were young men, intelligent, respectful and skilled, wanting to make the country proud, and they know that the only way to do this is to work as a team, something the aforementioned prima donnas seemed to have forgotten.
What this team has shown is that a game like football (or any equivalent organization) requires not team members that are paid so much money that there is no reason to get out of bed. For so many years, being called up to play for England was an inconvenience to Premier League footballers, not an honour or even duty.
A national team needs a vision (winning the World Cup, or close, as I write), and what could a lowly-paid manager offer players who make so much more money then you?
England had experimented with paying over-the-top incentives to ‘foreign talent’ managers with abysmal results.
Southgate was considered ‘inexperienced’ when he was picked, and he himself pushed the envelope when he picked the current ‘inexperienced’ team.
Southgate’s failure in his Euro96 spot-kick broke him, but unlike Humpty Dumpty, he and those who believe in him were able to put him together again, stronger.
Others who know him better speak of his kindness, compassion and ability to empathize. For me, Southgate is the personification of tenacity, reminding me of an English politician who famously said, “Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.”
What lessons might we in Singapore learn from this England team?