England are going to win the World Cup. And I have a man crush on Gareth Southgate.
They are bold statements, I know. But this time it feels different (the World Cup bit, I mean).
Southgate seems to have made the ‘impossible’ job ‘possible’ since he took over as England manager. He has taken some simple leadership principles and done what so many managers before him have failed to do; implement them.
He has looked at the well documented issues the England football team has faced over the years and set out to eradicate them step by step, in order to give his team the best opportunity to be successful. That is after all, what leadership is about isn’t it?
So what principles have the Southgate ‘revolution’ been based on?
1. Have a Vision
When he took over mid qualifying campaign he very clearly stated that we were going to play the 442 formation that the players were used to and once we had qualified he would evolve this into his preferred 532 formation for the tournament. He picked the right players to suit what was best for the team, not the right formation to suit the best players as had been the case for many years. You could argue the likes of Pickford and Maguire are playing simply because they fit the style of play better. Long gone is the Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes diamond debacle!
Having clarity of thought and the conviction of your beliefs is a powerful thing.
2. Manage expectations
Rallied by the media we have regularly been whipped up into a storm of ‘tubthumping’ expectations that have weighed heavily on the team. Southgate has done well to lower these, asking us to focus on progression and the development of young players. Most brilliantly he has created trust with the media by being more candid and helping them to get what they want in the guise of more access to the players. Deeply personal stories from Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, coupled with all the players being available on media days have been decisive in turning the tide.
The press manage the nation’s perceptions, so with the press on side, the nation is feeling positive, supportive and importantly, forgiving.
3. Create a sense of togetherness
Club based cliques between players defined the ‘Golden Generation’ and Southgate has set out to create an atmosphere where players are playing for the person next to them (something that is often quoted by the players in interviews).
He spent time studying what the best teams in the world do, and copied it. He often quotes the All Blacks and has fully bought into their ethos where nobody is bigger than the team.
Whether it has been traditional team building sessions, spreading leadership responsibilities amongst all of the players (both on and off the pitch) or his obvious loyalty to players that have bought into his ideas, it has all gone to serve the creation of a team. And with teams, comes spirit.
4. Listen to your customers
For years England fans have been crying out for a dynamic, attacking team that plays in a fearless way. We have, for a long time, been willing to let go of the need to win in exchange for a brand of football that we could all ‘get behind’.
Introducing young players has been a way to by-pass the fear ridden legacy of the past and he has supplemented this by creating a freedom for them to express themselves. The move to the single pivot in midfield, the introduction of Lingard and Alli and the willingness to play two strikers, is a football fans dream. Put simply, he has provided a product that his customers want to buy!
5. Be dignified and respectful
After the fiasco of the Sam Allardyce era and the follow up scandal involving the manager of the women’s England team, Mark Sampson, it was time for something more ‘presidential’ and fitting at the top of the FA.
The tone was set right from that start with the way he dealt with the ‘Rooney situation’, allowing him to bow out gracefully while laying down a marker of who is in charge.
He is calm, in control and knows how to say the right thing – being open, answering questions but never ‘slipping up’ and giving the press the one liner they may have looked for in the past. How he dealt with the disgusting treatment of Raheem Sterling by the Sun newspaper summed him up beautifully – loyal, considered and decisive.
He understands the behaviour that is required of someone who holds his office and is focused on achieving results the right way and not at any cost. Plus, he does look dapper in his waistcoat and tie. How very English.
52 years of hurt won’t dissipate quickly. However, football is a game of fine margins and we have never had a better opportunity to win the World Cup. Southgate has even had us practising penalties! Regardless of the result, Gareth has earned my man crush.