John Brewin: Will he be Sir Gareth or the next Chris Coleman after this World Cup?

The ever-knowledgeable John Brewin looks at what Gareth Southgate’s legacy could be after the World Cup and the parallels he has with Chris Coleman…


Genuine success in a major football tournament has done funny things to the English.

The national economy has lost millions of man hours in its post-Colombia hangover guffawing at a series of internet memes in which Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions” is the joke.

Any criticism of England’s brave boys in Russia qualifies dissenters for traitor status and the “shucks, let’s enjoy it while it lasts” mindset with which the media flew out has been abandoned in favour of an expectation that anything less than the final would be a disappointment.

Losing to Sweden would be harrowingly disastrous.

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And amidst it all, Gareth Southgate currently holds the status of “greatest living Englishman”, a status previously enjoyed by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Sir Ian Botham, Stephen Fry and Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.

The knighthood is surely in the post. “GarethSouthgateWould” trended for two days.

Success in the penalty shootout with Colombia rained down a deluge of praise on Southgate cracking a code beyond England’s ken since 1996.

The extended technical breakdowns and attendant psychobabble mostly ignored that it took Mateus Uribe’s miss for England to have the chance of victory.

Southgate has the press, and by extension the nation, in the palm of his hand. He has marked himself out as a fine public speaker, his pitched-up estuary tones giving him an everyman quality.

Success, while it lasts, has lent his words great profundity as his common-sense approach has reached out into Middle England.

The last time a British international manager held such sway was only two years ago. When Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Chris Coleman’s press conferences were appointment viewing.

His Richard Burton-esque baritone harnessed a nation happy to travel along for the ride.

Whereas “it’s coming home” for England, the Welsh fans in France sang “please don’t take me home”, which says much of the neighbouring nations’ attitude to their place in football. But, there are many comparisons to be drawn between Coleman and Southgate, and not just the fact they used to be partners in Crystal Palace’s central defence.

Both wear sharp suits, though Southgate favours the wedding waistcoat look over Coleman’s tailored-fit dark blazer.

Amid their squad, a status as a relatively recent former international gives them the ability to speak a language their players understand, and thus be inspirational.

Each of them has got the press onside with a sensible open-door policy, in which the players are not locked away like cosseted Hollywood prima donnas and allowed to reveal a human side.

And they share rather similar CVs, as managers whose time as young, thrusting managers in the Premier League is a distant memory, Coleman’s four years with Fulham from 2003 to 2007 and Southgate’s three years with Middlesbrough from 2006 to 2009.

They may not wish to be reminded of it, but both has presided over a relegation for a North East club, Southgate in 2009 with Boro and Coleman last season with Sunderland.

There, the comparisons may end, since it is difficult to countenance Southgate managing Hebei China Fortune FC one day, but their career trajectories both speak to the idea that an indifferent club management career is not necessarily an impairment to delivering success at international level.

Jogi Loew, the last coach to win the World Cup, has an equally unremarkable record as a club manager. His finest achievement was to reach – and lose – the European Cup Winners’ Cup final to Chelsea in 1998 with VfB Stuttgart, before jobs in Turkish and Austrian football.

Whereas international managers like Roy Hodgson have regularly complained that a lack of day-to-day involvement was a major downside to their job, Southgate, Coleman, Loew and others found a way to occupy themselves.

Southgate used his spare time to work out the “special teams” approach, borrowed from US Sports, which has led to England being so highly effective at set pieces.

In the club world, England’s “blitzes” at corners might be fashionable for a while before managers working week to week eventually find a method to stop it, but within the fast turnaround and hothouse atmosphere of a tournament, it has helped power Southgate’s team to a quarter-final stage considered the optimum before the flight to Russia.

Whether Sweden, who rival Uruguay as the best defensive team left in the World Cup, fall for such wiles is another story. It might be time for England’s players to find a way through in open play, something that evaded them in all but the destruction of Panama.

Such are the questions Southgate and his assistants must answer.

As England expects a Saturday 3pm kick-off which has caused wedding rearrangements and rescheduled club friendlies, he is entrusted with the keys to a nation’s well-being.

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