England manager, Gareth Southgate is no stranger to pressure. Both in his playing career and managerial career, Gareth has faced scenarios unimaginable to the average public. Part of potentially, England football’s most heartbreaking moment, Southgate had to pick himself up and learn how to deal with such tremendous emotional hurt. In doing so became the man we all know today. Gareth now leads a diverse and socially aware England team who made history by reaching England’s first major tournament final in fifty-five years. An achievement that the whole of England celebrated profusely.

Gareth was famous long before his managerial days. Captaining Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, Gareth was also an England regular. Amounting, fifty-seven caps for his country, Gareth was far from your run-of-the-mill footballer, he was-and still is- a living legend and an inspiration to those around him.

He was also part of the Crystal Palace team that was promoted to the Premier League in 1994. Despite all this success, Gareth struggled much in his early career and had to make drastic changes to ensure he remained competitive, especially after being dropped from the English youth team. Gareth said there was a stage in his early career where ‘It wasn’t for fun anymore, it was your job.’

Southgate was able to overcome all of these internal and external doubts to become a key figure for inclusivity and progress.


Adversity and Adaptability

Overcoming adversity and utilising it are key components of leadership and of Southgate’s eventual accession to England manager. Southgate’s penalty miss was part of the reason for England’s exit from the 1996 Euros- it crushed his spirits and sent him into a downward spiral of shame, but he did not let this halt him in his progression, something that he passed on to England players Sako, Rashford and Sancho after taking penalties in the 2020 euro finals. He also experienced managerial failures with his dismissal from Middlesbrough in 2009. However, he refused to allow these failures to define his life or career-he used them to fuel his ambition and push him forward.

This is a life lesson that Gareth will be translating to Saka, Rashford and Sancho following their penalty misses against Italy. Being able to get up from such an emotionally destructive moment is oftentimes what makes the greatest football players. Southgate will be able to impart his knowledge and experience to help the players to cope with the situation.

An empathetic and honest approach to player’s issues has not always been present in the England camp, but Southgate has worked to change that. Gareth’s new set up encourages communication between players and coaching staff. Player’s are no longer isolated or in cliques, but are free to talk openly as adults. With transfer talks no longer being barred from the camp as Southgate trusts his players unlike some of his predecessors.

Treating your team as equals and not as dependents is a leadership trait that many could learn from. Being able to converse and discuss issues with your team freely allows for better flexibility and adaptability. It has also allowed the England team to become greater than its sum of parts.

A Message Bigger than Football

Before the start of the Euros, Gareth and the whole England squad had a very difficult challenge to face. Their support of racial equality was being criticised by England fans all over the country. Some fans believed that kneeling in support of racial equality was either a form of virtue signalling or a form of supporting a ‘marxist’ movement.

In response to these dismissive and ignorant views Gareth wrote a heartfelt and meaningful message to England fans. In doing so Southgate not only defended his player’s right to kneel, but also detailed why he supported them in doing so. He did not hide from the issue, nor did he take a half-hearted defence of his team’s actions.

Southgate acknowledges there are things that are much more important than football. Showing solidarity with his teammates and those facing racial injustice is one such thing. Southgate knows that the England squad is a vital part of English culture and a key source of inspiration for many young people. He therefore acknowledges it is vital that the squad showcase the importance of inclusivity and equality, to ensure it is replicated by England’s younger generations, regardless of what some fans may say about it.

Throughout the tournament, England faced their critics and continued to promote racial equality, with the vast majority of England supporters cheering them on. The message was made all the more prevalent thanks to their success and results, showcasing that supporting progress to racial equality is something we can all undertake.

Furthermore, Southgate is consistent with his message of inclusivity and solidarity. He recognises that creating an environment of inclusivity not only creates a more welcoming atmosphere, but also encourages a wider range of problem solving solutions.

Diversity of thinking is oftentimes linked to diversity in race and gender. This is also reflected in Gareth’s coaching staff. He looks to surround himself with people with different approaches to problem solving, as well as life experience.

Humility and Accountability

Recognising your role as a leader is the first hurdle in conducting yourself effectively. Southgate knows the amount of football talent he has at his disposal, but it is not that aspect that he focuses on with his squad. ‘As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person – improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree.’

Everyone in the England squad is capable of playing football at the highest level, however it is the mental and social tools that Southgate looks to focus on. While many may argue this is a backwards approach to coaching, England’s results would say otherwise.

The best way to develop these tools is to encourage accountability. In doing so Southgate leaves decision making in the hands of his players which creates situations that the players have to adapt and solve, giving them experience for the later choices they would have to make. Having responsibility for their actions develops a different side to the squad beyond fundamental football skills.

This approach only works if there are no egos present amongst a team, no single player can dictate decisions to one another. Southgate’s humility and willingness to hold himself accountable for errors helps to ensure this. By leading by example the rest of the squad follows, everyone fulfils their role and does not look to impose their will upon England’s play style or strategy.

Only when a team has great interpersonal relations and a harmonious atmosphere can they hope to reach their full potential.

Looking Forward to the World Cup

While the defeat to Italy in the final of the Euros has done much to dampen English optimism and joy, it is important to note that this squad is still young. With a manager who epitomises English stoicism and grit, while also championing inclusion and diversity the squad are in safe hands. Not only will they continue to make waves in the fight for racial equality, they will also surely make a statement in the upcoming world cup. Southgate’s progress into English folklore is far from over.