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Gareth Southgate: a likeable leader’s ‘quiet revolution’

England manager’s ‘DNA’ has defined the run to the Euro 2020 final

“Le jeu prudent,” was how the French newspaper L’Équipe described the emotional victory over Germany which took England to the quarter-final of the European Championships, said Barney Ronay in The Guardian. It’s a telling phrase that encapsulates the sense “not just of caution, but of a guiding wisdom” which defines both the England team and its manager.

Gareth Southgate’s conservative philosophy might be dismissed as timidity by those begging him to unleash “inside-forward hell”, but in sticking to his guns and letting his natural caution prevail, the England manager is leading his own “quiet revolution”. 

And those “ruthless but never reckless” instincts were thoroughly vindicated in Saturday’s 4-0 quarter-final defeat of Ukraine, when the first priority was once again solidity in defence, said Dave Kidd in The Sun. Indeed, the fact that England have only conceded one goal - the superb free-kick by Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard in the 2-1 semi-final win - shows that Southgate’s team has evolved into a stronger unit than it was when he led them to the last four of the 2018 Fifa World Cup. 

Ignoring mounting calls for them to be dropped, he has stuck by players he trusts in – Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson – while developing “myriad attacking options”. And now the team reflects the qualities of its patient, likeable leader. 

The bright boy who grew up in Crawley, West Sussex, didn’t seem destined for a football career, said Paul Byrne in The Mirror. His teachers thought his future lay in accountancy or journalism. Even when apprenticed at Crystal Palace, he was advised by his coach, Alan Smith, to become a travel agent. However Smith still made him first-team captain, and Southgate went on to enjoy a 57-cap international career. 

Southgate missed a penalty in the Euro 96 shoot-out defeat against Germany

Southgate missed a penalty in the Euro 96 shoot-out defeat against Germany

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The dominant memory many fans have of him as a footballer is the missed penalty against Germany that kept England out of the Euro 96 final – plus the Pizza Hut advert it inspired. Yet that failure was “the making” of Southgate, said Matthew Syed in The Times: it forged in him the resilience that he now inspires in others. 

It is Southgate’s own “DNA” that has defined England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, said Mark Critchley in The Independent. And in particular it is his unusual openness to new ideas – evident during his tenure as manager of Middlesbrough and during his subsequent stewardship of the England Under-21s – that has informed his long-term overhaul of England’s national set-up. 

Another component of that DNA is the “decency” and “common sense” that has proved him right on so many things, said Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. His just reward was to be the first England men’s manager to reach consecutive major tournament semi-finals since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1968 - and now the first major men’s tournament final for 55 years, where they face Italy on Sunday.

In the semi-final win against Denmark Southgate stayed “true to himself” and calmly controlled England’s destiny, said The Guardian’s Jacob Steinberg. Going a goal down at Wembley and then the game going to extra time, “without bellowing nor rage the manager plotted a route back into the semi-final and now the Euro 2020 final awaits”.

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