How Gareth Southgate took a leaf from Chris Wilder's Sheffield United playbook to inspire England to World Cup semi-finals

0
Have your say

Gareth Southgate deserves credit for many things: Writing letters to fans, promoting M&S waistcoats and guiding England, including three former Sheffield United players, into the semi-finals of this summer's World Cup.

But, without wishing to piddle on the England manager's parade, the notion his managerial methodology breaks the mould is nothing short of a nonsense. Yes, it delivers results. Yes, it has breathed new life into our national team. But revolutionary? Never.

After all, having spent my second summer in a row travelling with Chris Wilder's squad to Europe, I can testify the same down-to-earth approach which has transformed the Three Lions is already tried, tested and cemented at United. Indeed, if you didn't know better, one could be forgiven for thinking Southgate has simply torn page upon page from the 50-year-old's playbook.

He hasn't of course. But what Wilder and his opposite number at the FA understand, unlike many of their counterparts, is that football and humilty should go hand in hand. Professional sportspeople, for all their talent, riches and entitlements, are no different to the rest of us.

They are just better recompensed, (usually), for doing something a damn sight less arduous than working in casualty, toiling at the coal face or even running the country.

There are uncanny similiarities between the approach Wilder has adopted since taking charge at Bramall Lane and the one Southgate is employing in Russia. While Harry Maguire, one of two Steelphalt Academy graduates in the latter's squad, is filmed playing darts and joking about missing his bin collection, Leon Clarke finds himself the butt of jokes after refusing to remove his raincoat, despite the searing heat, for training in Portugal.

Paul Coutts in training (Sheffield United/YouTube)

Paul Coutts in training (Sheffield United/YouTube)

Jesse Lingard makes headlines for his Instagram posts. Mark Duffy, meanwhile, is handed the password for a day to United's own social media channels. None of which guarantees results. But does reveal 'enjoyment' and 'fun' are not dirty words at either Bramall Lane or Wembley.

Twelve months ago, when Wilder's charges visited Spain rather than Vale do Lobo, a Premier League club were based in the same resort. Working out on adjacent pitches at a nearby football complex, it was fascinating to observe the contrasting atmospheres of their respective camps.

United worked hard but mingled with fans and made sure they were approachable. The top-flight side seemed friendly enough but, accompanied by in-house security, kept their distance.

Coaches like to speak about the power of the supporters. This can be multiplied one-hundred fold when they are engaged. As Wilder and most recently Southgate have demonstrated, footballers perform better when they feel relaxed and, crucially, benefit from even greater levels of backing when those on the terraces can get to know the group.