FA technical director Les Reed: Gareth Southgate wants to win with England
By Rob Dorsett
Last Updated: 10/09/19 7:12pm
The Football Association’s technical director Les Reed, appointed last December to succeed Dan Ashworth, believes England are within touching distance of achieving something special under Gareth Southgate – a first major trophy since 1966.
Here Reed, who was vice-chairman of Southampton before taking up the role at the FA, talks to Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett about his role and returning to St Mary's ahead of England's European Qualifier against Kosovo.
Back in Southampton with the England team, that must be quite a special moment?
Yes very much so, fantastic. It was a little bit eerie going back to the training ground on the first day but I know everybody there. They are fabulous people and they were so excited to have England there training, and they are great facilities and we've had great feedback from the boys.
I was a little bit nervous about what they thought but everyone's really enjoyed it so it's helped to be more relaxed and it's a nice place to be.
Gareth Southgate's often talked about taking England around the country, he says you get a different atmosphere and it can really help, is that something you find?
Yeah, I think we have to balance off Wembley and the business aspect of owning Wembley and also all those people committed to long-term arrangements in terms of fans going to games.
I was with the England team when [Wembley] was being knocked down so we went to Old Trafford, St James' Park, we went to quite a few places and it does help a lot in terms of engagement with the fans taking it around the country.
It's getting the balance right. With the Euros being a kind of home tournament but not quite, it's been a really good exercise to do it this time.
You've been FA Technical Director before. How it has changed from 17 years ago?
Howard Wilkinson was the first ever Technical Director so we were growing something from scratch then. It was small, very few people, we didn't have St George's Park so it was about planning and looking forward to the future.
When I came back it was huge, there was 300 staff in the technical department looking after 28 teams all the way through para, futsal, blind teams.
We want all our teams to have the best standards, the best quality. They are all playing in world championships and European championships and St George's Park has been a fantastic bonus to bring all that together. It would have been impossible before.
My remit really is across all of those teams but also all the support services that go with that, sports science, sports medicine, talent identification and a massive coach education department which delivers coaching from the grassroots all the way through to the pro licence through to the technical director's licence.
It's a big remit with a lot of staff and I'm just getting to know some of them, certainly not all of them. It's been really exciting, very, very different from the club role where everything is kind of logical.
It's kind of around the fixture calendar and the transfer window but every day in this job can be different, so this week I'm out on camp with the seniors last week we had the FIFA Technical Directors' conference at St George's Park, with 28 Technical Directors from around Europe which we hosted, which again was a fantastic experience, learning about how they do it elsewhere.
It's much, much bigger but it does give us the opportunity to be at the cutting edge and push things for the future of English football.
Your all-encompassing role has already had success and proved it's necessary.
Over these last two weeks we've had the women's seniors preparing for their away games, followed by the U19s and U18s women, then we had the younger teams in during the preparation with the first team.
It was like a club, we had the youth teams in, the coaches from your academy in a really, really good atmosphere, which is something the plan for St George's Park would be, and that's the top of the academy system which is really now starting to deliver quality in the game.
It's a really exciting time as the pool of talented players is getting bigger, we've got players like Jadon [Sancho] going out to Germany and getting that kind of experience which can only be good for international football.
Is that pool of talent as deep as it's ever been?
I think it's deep now so it does transcend all of the age groups. We've had the 'golden generation', we've had these pockets of one particular age band of talented players but the work that's done in academies and the gradual development and of the growth of St George's Park and the structure, and the England DNA, now we've got depth.
The pool is bigger because it is deeper and it is wider. But obviously there are only so many places at international level but what that really does enable us to do is , you know, the cream really does have the opportunity to reach the top, so the pathway is so much better.
Mason Mount, unfortunately Aaron Wan-Bissaka had to go home injured, and players who have come through the pathway find that transition much easier. When they step in, they're relaxed, they're cool.
So the other thing is matched with minutes on the pitch, they get a certain amount of respect because they are playing against the older international players every week as well. So that's the next task for us is to get them more minutes on the pitch.
If England's senior men don't win a trophy would you deem your tenure to be a failure?
I wouldn't deem it a failure but I would be disappointed because I think we've got an opportunity to win a trophy. We got close at the world Cup, we learnt a lot of lessons from that, I think the journey to the semi-final was really good for us.
I think it wasn't expected that we would go that far but it is a great positive that we did. The players who experienced that are still with us and we have players who have won tournaments before in the lower age groups who are in the pathway.
We talk a lot about teaching players to win, the pathway is about teaching them to win, the national team is about winning, otherwise why do it?
We think there is a really, really talented group of young players who have got an opportunity to mature over the course of the next European Championship leading into the next World Cup and on the women's side they've done the same, they've experienced the semi-final, they've qualified for the Olympics, they are very excited about that.
So the opportunities are there. Other people will judge whether my tenure has been a failure if we don't win it, but personally that's what I've set out to try and achieve.
My job is to find those extra inches, the marginal gains that so often get mentioned to take us from semi-finalists, to finalists, to winners, so Gareth and Phil [Neville], particularly at the senior end, can focus on picking the right teams, getting the tactics right and winning the games.
We don't want to have any excuses that it was anything else that stopped us doing it. My job is to oil the machine to make it run smoothly.
Is Gareth Southgate the best coach in world football in your view?
I think the thing with Gareth is he's set a profile as a role model for what the national team coach should be like. So you've said it yourself there, he understands the pathway.
He was the U21 coach but he was also when he first came in responsible for that pathway for the elite teams. So Gareth's got unbelievable knowledge of all the players on the pathway which is what you want from your international manager.
In the past we've had great managers, they've won Champions Leagues, they've won the Premier League, they've won tournaments, but as club managers and there is a difference.
Gareth's own pathway to this role has been a big advantage, because now we've got the profile, we've got the right person, what we have to do now is make sure that is the profile of coach we are developing for the future.
If a Premier League club came in, would you be confident you could persuade him to stay?
Definitely. It would be a tough ask depending on what he was offered. But I know Gareth's mindset at the moment is that he wants to be an England manager that wins something, wants to be an England manager who is successful in Europe.
I think the attraction of being the next England manager to take us to a World Cup final is a strong pull and also I think he knows that by doing that his stock's not going to go down.
Obviously it's something that we have in the back of our minds all the time but I know that Gareth's motivation is with this team and developing this team moving forward. It would depend on what came up but I think at the moment Gareth's sole focus is to win matches with the England team.
You've been in football a long time and had a lot of roles.. have any been as exciting as this?
I think it's a role that gives me an opportunity to bring that experience to the table on a number of different fronts, from coach education from the national team so I've been lucky to have a career.
As one of my staff mentioned yesterday, you've read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies. So I think I can bring that to the table and it does excite me because it is so different.
I'll get as excited if the futsal team are world champions as winning the U21 tournament, or whatever. And to be around great people. There are a lot of people, but good people, very experienced, very talented, so yeah I'm really happy.
Your comments about the U21s and the over confidence you thought they had going into the summer tournament received a lot of attention. Explain that to us..
It's clear that you need to be confident, if you are going to be winners, so you need confidence, you need to have a little bit of a swagger but it is very important you know where to draw the line and don't cross that so confidence and a bit of swagger turns into a bit of arrogance which then leads into not focusing on the job in hand and making a few mistakes.
So it's important we do develop that level of confidence, we want our players to believe they are going to win, and they are motivated to win, but what we don't want them to do is step over the line and think that it doesn't take a lot to go and win.