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Gareth Southgate feared he had missed
Gareth Southgate has admitted he feels “hugely fortunate” to be leading England into the knockout phase of a World Cup after fearing he had passed up his chance for ever to manage the national team exactly two years ago on Thursday.
The Football Association’s chief executive, Martin Glenn, had publicly and confidently suggested Southgate was “a pretty obvious one to pick” as an interim solution in the grim aftermath of England’s humiliating loss to Iceland at Euro 2016 while the governing body performed its intended exhaustive and global search to identify Roy Hodgson’s successor.
The comments were made at a hastily arranged press conference at the team’s base in Chantilly, with no prior consultation with the then under-21s’ manager, and with England’s opening World Cup qualifier against Slovakia only nine weeks away. Yet, within hours, Southgate had made it known through the Guardian that he had no intention of taking the job as a stop-gap.
“I feel hugely fortunate now,” said Southgate on the eve of England’s final Group G fixture against Belgium as he reflected on the decision made in the 48 hours after that defeat to Iceland. “It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted it to go well for Roy, just as I later wanted it to go well for Sam [Allardyce]. So I didn’t think, when Roy left, there’d be any enthusiasm for an internal appointment, and I knew that my record with Middlesbrough – even though, for me, what
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I achieved with them in the first two years was better than anything I’ve done in the last couple of weeks – would be held against me as a manager.
“You’re always judged on results without necessarily all of the context and all the understanding of where you are, that you’re learning
“But I remember Chris Coleman [then of Wales] after the European
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Championship saying: ‘You’ve got to go for things in life, and not be afraid to fail.’ That resonated with me because I’d probably just ruled myself out of taking on the [England] job. You know, if I was talking to young people or my own kids, I would be saying exactly those things, but I wasn’t living it myself. So I felt, then, actually I had to make sure that, if there are opportunities in life, you’ve got to go for them. Even as a young player, you maybe only get one World Cup. You assume there’ll be more, but you might only get one because of an injury or something else.”
The suggestion at the time was that Southgate resented being taken for granted and harboured real concerns over how taking on the role, even in the short-term while the FA sounded out prospective candidates, could possibly benefit his future
career. If successful in the qualifiers, he would merely end up handing over to the “first-choice” given he was clearly not being considered as a contender for the permanent position at that time. If the qualifiers went poorly, his reputation could be damaged beyond repair. So the perceived “yes man” duly made it clear he would say no.
His instincts then were to remain with the under-21s, with whom he had just won the Toulon tournament with a squad that included Jordan Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, before possibly pursuing another job
in club management to broaden his development. The FA had not seen that coming. As it transpired, another unanticipated crisis three months later – the dismissal of Allardyce after one game in charge following a sting by an undercover reporter – would lead the FA to come begging once again. With the national team in dire need, Southgate found it harder to refuse.
The favourable impression made over the seven-week interim stewardship that followed convinced him it was a role he would embrace
on a full-time basis, and he has led this team to the World Cup, successive group wins in Russia, and a contest against Belgium in Kaliningrad to
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decide who tops the group, with a knockout fixture to follow. “I knew when somebody needed to step in with a couple of days’ notice [after Allardyce was sacked in September 2016] that I was the best person to do that and keep the team on track,” he said. “And then I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
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