Martin Smith column: Give Gareth Southgate a Welcome break
I once saw that Gareth Southgate at a service station on the M62.
Birch near Manchester as it happens.
Tall and lean and reeking of footballer’s money in his navy blue suit and centre-back stubble he and his equally smart mate actually turned very few heads as they went off for their Ginsters and americano.
More people nodded enviously at his top of the range Audi than looked to make eye contact with the then new England U21 manager.
He appeared more the travel or estate agent his former manager Alan Smith said he would make when he was 17 if he didn’t ‘toughen up’. But toughen up he did.
Southgate went on to captain Crystal Palace at 22 and win 57 England caps after allegedly introducing himself in his first England training session by flying into a 50-50 with Stuart Pearce.
If he thought that and his missing THAT penalty against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final shoot-out was tough, he is volunteering for challenges on another level if he becomes ‘permanent’ England manager.
Southgate has done a fair job for England in his short time in charge. But fans, press and nation have unrealistic expectations of the England team that really ought to be downgraded or at least deferred. Unfortunately none of us knows how to do that.
Unless we have reached rock bottom - and we won’t know unless and until things improve or get worse - we might be better with an organising, underdog-motivating character manager than a St George’s tactician steeped in the FA’s culture of youth football and player development.
We are underdogs now, we need to start playing that way. Martin O’Neill has done it with Ireland as has Chris Coleman with Wales through tactics and styles of play that suit the talents they have rather than trying to mix it with the superpowers on what all our English instincts and arrogance say should be ‘equal terms’.
Give Gareth the job by all means but we need to have the courage and sense to allow him to fail and build again - and maybe again after that. Something that, as a nation, we just don’t seem to have.
Service station anonymity is over for Southgate.
Whether future coffee and pasty stops involve posing for selfies with excitable fans or furtively dodging abuse depends on what happens next.