Gareth Southgate has considered stepping down as England boss due to the criticism he faced ahead of the World Cup, saying: “The last thing you want as a manager is for your presence is divisive and inhibits performance.”
The team was booed in June following a 4-0 loss to Hungary at Molineux in the Nations League – part of a generally poor run of results leading up to the Winter World Cup.
Explain for the first time how he made the decision stay in his job, he told BBC Sport: “I never want to be in a position where my presence negatively affects the team.
“I didn’t think that was the case, but I just wanted a period after the World Cup to reflect and make sure that was still how I felt.”
The 52-year-old said he wondered, “Is it the right thing to keep taking on this project? I wanted to make sure I’m still fresh and hungry for this challenge.”
Describing his role as “the greatest privilege of my life”, he said the decision to stay was ultimately “not a difficult one” due to “the quality of the performances and the progress we are making”.
“The team continues to improve. We’re all starting to believe in what we’re doing,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview conducted at the team’s St George’s Park training base, Southgate:
- strongly suggested he was considering announcing last year that Qatar would be his last tournament to ‘release that narrative so that the support is behind the team, and not debating whether the manager should be there or not’
- said getting knocked out in the quarter-finals was “really hard to take” but the support from the players and fans “definitely lifts you up”
- revealed he was “comfortable” with his tactics during the defeat against France and had no regrets
- insisted England are ‘really competitive against everyone now’ and are ‘very confident’ of their chances at next year’s European Championship in Germany
Immediately after his side lost to France six weeks ago, Southgate said he felt “conflicted” about his future, having “found much of the past 18 months difficult”.
England entered the World Cup after being relegated from their Nations League group and during the loss to Hungary, some England fans chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing” at the manager.
After failing to match both the semi-final he led England to at the 2018 World Cup and the Euro 2020 final, Southgate said he would “look and reflect”.
But a week later the FA announced he would see out the remaining two years of his contract.
Now, in his first public comments since the move, Southgate has opened up about the effect the criticism he received after the Hungary defeat had on him.
“I was worried that after this game the team would be affected by the story of the manager staying or leaving, and when we went into the games in September we were a bit anxious.
“At Wembley against Germany the crowd was not against their team but they were waiting to see what would happen.
“I’ve been around teams where it can inhibit performance, and the last thing you want as a manager is for your presence to be divisive and inhibit performance.
“I knew I had support with the players and [the FA]there are more things at stake with England than just [that].
“My only concern… was when I feel like there might be a divide between what the fans want and where my position might have been, that can affect the team, and I was aware of that leading at the World Cup.
“I felt we had great support, but I was aware… how would things go during and after?”
Southgate says his team recovered before the World Cup but wanted to be sure after the tournament that staying was the right thing for his team.
“You have to give yourself time in these situations to make good decisions,” he said.
“I think it’s easy to rush things when emotions are running high, and very often you have to sleep a bit more and come to the right conclusions.
“The question for me was… ‘is this the right thing to do to continue this project?’ Because it’s not just the six years I’ve been at senior level – I’ve been here for 10 years developing everything as well, so I wanted to make sure I’m still fresh and eager to take on this challenge. “
“Trying to Break Through History”
To show how close he was to announcing ahead of the World Cup that he would be stepping down after the tournament, Southgate said: “My thought is still there: ‘How does this affect the team?
“Is this going to give the team the best chance of getting to the World Cup?” he added.
“Do we need to release that narrative so that the support is behind the team, and not debating whether the manager should be there or not? But I think we’ve been through that period.”
Asked if he was hesitant as he weighed whether to stay, Southgate replied: “Not after the World Cup. At the start it was a bit different.
“I wasn’t quite sure how things would go, and I think it’s always fair to judge an international manager on their tournaments.
“Our performances have been good. With France, throughout the game, we should win. But football is a low-scoring game where small margins make the difference.
“And we have to make sure that now those small margins work in our favour. We are now much closer to really having that conviction to win. We still have a small step to go – I have seen progress in the team of our representations in euros.
“We’re trying to make history here as well as against top opponents. I think we’re really competitive against everyone now.
“Apart from France, and you could say Croatia, we’ve probably been as consistent as any team in terms of finishing. And I think people have enjoyed that trip with us.”
Asked what it would have been like to see someone else take over, Southgate replied: “I never worry about someone else taking over and taking advantage of it, that’s how it is. should work.
“We are talking about building a future for England at the moment, for the next tournament, but also beyond.”
“The exit was difficult to accept”
Southgate said the support he received from players and fans after the France loss “definitely uplifts you”.
“The moment of your departure is really difficult, and you know the steps to take for the next one,” he said.
“But I don’t think you can make decisions as a manager just having everyone’s support because you’ll never have everyone’s support.”
While most of Southgate’s caps paid off in Qatar and his side showed more attacking intent than before, he was criticized for waiting until the 85th minute against France to introduce the in-form forward. Manchester UnitedMarcus Rashford.
When asked if he had any regrets about the match, he replied: “I don’t really have any. What I learned in this job, every time the result doesn’t go like you hope, the solution is still what you did”. t do, because of course no one knows what they might look like.
“So I’m comfortable with that. I think we used the squad well. There can always be an argument for a different player to provide something at a different time.”
When it was suggested to Southgate that some fans think a new manager is needed to help provide England with silverware, he said: “I think if our performances weren’t up to par they had been, then I think there would be a little more legitimacy in that argument.
“We all start to believe in what we are doing.
“We are really competitive against everyone now and the game against France showed that we can dominate the ball against these big teams.”
“The greatest privilege of my life”
In the build-up to the World Cup, Southgate has been regularly asked to comment on the human rights issues which surrounded the controversial organization of the tournament by Qatar.
“There are times when life would be easier for me if I just focused on football,” he said.
“You are very aware of the impact of your words and you have to represent your country on the world stage.
“So there can be a vision in our country of certain things, but you also have to be an ambassador when you travel and when you deal with other people.
“So it’s complex, but it’s also been the greatest privilege of my life to lead my country and I’m very aware of that honor. It’s given me life experiences that I never could have. wait for me.”
“The FA Cup, a crucial platform”
Southgate was speaking ahead of the FA Cup 4th round and said the games will play a role in helping him select his squad for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers against champions Italy and Ukraine in March.
“A lot of teams have played young English players and for many it’s their first experience of competitive football,” he said.
“So it’s great to see young players breaking through.
“We have several players who are playing well. And it’s interesting to watch this period because it’s the first time players have had to come back from a major tournament directly into club football.
“The next few weeks are important for us to watch, probably more players who maybe haven’t been with us as regularly.
“But then, as we move towards March, it’s really essential to know who is fit and who can help us win what is a crucial game in Napoli and then with Ukraine as well.”