Gareth Southgate: England’s modern manager with an old school will to win

With hindsight, it is fair to say that, for what gaps Southgate had in experience, he has filled with character

fter being sacked by Middlesbrough in 2009, a surprised and somewhat aggrieved Gareth Southgate sat at his living room table, stewing until the early hours, and wrote a list. Despite the bitter taste of his dismissal, before chewing over every last detail, lesson and mistake, Southgate was instead making a record of every item he’d borrowed from the club where he spent almost a decade as a player and coach, right down to the last, muddied pieces of clothing. So consumed by the task at hand, only once his wife, Alison, came downstairs at 3am, wondering why the lights were still on, did she realise what had happened.

That scene might still be the perfect portrait of the individual who became the first Englishman to reach 50 caps as both a player and manager with a second-gear waltz past San Marino on Thursday. Before his wealth of achievements, the mortifying penalty miss or banal addiction to a creaseless waistcoat, Southgate is an ultimate pragmatist. It’s the trait that has underlined his entire career, a shackle to logic that precluded him from “absolute freedom” as a player – a reputation that stretched so far as being nicknamed after the presenter Denis Norden as an academy graduate at Crystal Palace due to his precise intonation. But it is also what has enabled him to evolve into England’s ideal figurehead, capable of balancing the duties and demands of a diverse team while staying true to his principles. It could, at times, be tempting to describe Southgate as passive. More often, though, you suspect it’s the necessary medium between personal ambition and paternal leadership.

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