The manager of the England football team is often referred to as the nation’s second hardest job after being Prime Minister. Throughout torturous cycles of hope and heartbreak, it seemed impossible to succeed in a role in which public expectation came crushing down in condemnation at each major tournament failure.
Never did this appear to be truer than in October 2016. Having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Euros by Iceland, Roy Hodgson resigned from the role. His successor, Sam Allardyce, lasted only 67 days as he fell foul of a Daily Telegraph sting, which made his position untenable.
At this nadir, with fans disillusioned by their performances on and off the pitch, the FA decided to appoint a man who had only managed one senior team. Moreover, he was a former player whose career was best remembered for missing a penalty at Euro 1996. That man was, of course, Gareth Southgate.
He made his mark immediately by dropping Wayne Rooney, an England legend whose career was inextricably linked with the disappointments of the 2000s. In his place, Southgate selected younger players, many of whom he had worked with while coaching the England Under-21s.
While results on the pitch at times received mixed responses, Southgate’s mission went beyond just matches. At his unveiling as England manager he spoke of his goal “to give the country a team that they’re proud of and one that they’re going to enjoy watching play and develop.”
In placing the emphasis upon the pride of the nation first, Southgate underlined his own decency, which he is determined to instill in his players. As a result, his players have become closer to one another. Gone are the days where players remained in club cliques throughout their time with England. Now they all mix in: watching Love Island, jumping on inflatable unicorns and playing video games together.
The success of his approach has been seen in him reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, before this week becoming the first England manager to reach the final of a major tournament since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966. Yet still he has strived for more in his aim to bring the nation together.
Ahead of this tournament, Southgate stuck his head above the parapet with his thoughtful letter, entitled ‘Dear England’. He spoke of his and his players’ pride at representing their country, but also their desire to act as role models, speaking out on issues such as equality and racism, while condemning online hate. It was a brave and bold move before a tournament that could have caused his downfall, but showed the awareness of Southgate and his team for the influence they can have and their desire to use it positively.
Since then, they have overcome late squad arrivals, injury concerns and Covid isolations, to go on a trailblazing run to the final. In the process, they have brought a feel-good mood to the nation, united behind the team after a year of so much hardship.
But perhaps the most impressive moments have come after each of the wins. Then, the stars have taken a moment to thank those on the bench, who hadn’t made it onto the pitch but were just as important to victory. In these moments, the players showed the unity that Southgate has built and for which, no matter if he wins silverware or not, he will be remembered as a great England manager.
His team acts as an example to businesses and organisations across the country, not only in its desire for social impact, but in its cohesion. They have shown the importance of getting clarity of mission among your team that we all can learn from. For if this can be attained, even the impossible can be achieved.