England boss Gareth Southgate on Middlesbrough scars, being popular, being bold and facing Croatia again
England play Croatia on Sunday, live on Sky Sports from 1pm
Last Updated: 19/11/18 10:27am
Gareth Southgate has given an insightful interview ahead of England's crunch UEFA Nations League clash with Croatia, revealing why he felt "flat" after qualifying for the World Cup, why he was "scarred" by his time at Middlesbrough and why it is "bizarre" to be popular.
England have the chance to reach the Final Four of the Nations League when they take on Croatia at Wembley on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Here is what the England manager has had to say ahead of the game, including his high points in the last year and how he is trying to make the most of his "one shot"...
How big is a chance to get another semi-final?
"It's a fantastic game. It's unprecedented really to have had a year with so many big matches, it's a long time since England had seven games in a tournament and then normally you are back into a qualification group which might have a couple of big matches, but I have lost count of how many of the top 15-20 sides we have played this year.
"That's a brilliant learning experience for all of us and this is one more with a full house against a team who now have everything to play for, who have a brilliant mentality themselves and some top players, so it would be a brilliant finish to the year to come out on top in this one."
You qualified for the World Cup against Slovenia, but if we are honest it was against a backdrop of boredom and apathy. That night you qualified, how did you feel?
"Very flat. As a group of staff we weren't particularly happy with the way we played and we knew there was still a disconnect with the fans. Attendances were waning and so was the atmosphere.
"When I joined the FA to work with the U21s I wanted to implement a style of play to show what young English players were capable of, and through that period of having to qualify and find out about players we hadn't really replicated that. So [assistant] Steve Holland and myself had some time the previous summer looking at what the next stage might be, and we decided that we had to go for it.
"We believed in some of the young players coming through and we had some success at junior level which had gained momentum for everyone at St George's Park. The unknown was 'would those young players be able to adapt?' And how would the older players, those who were playing for the first time, cope with international football?
"I've often said it's not just the level of your opponent, it's can you handle wearing the shirt and playing for England?"
When you qualified for the World Cup were you happy at that point how it had gone for you as England manager?
"No. I felt we were treading water. What I had got was a bit more insight into the role and players, but until the style of play is what you believe in then you are not happy. That's why when I picked a lot of those younger players in November a year ago I felt much happier with myself.
"I am sure if you speak to other managers when they are going through change and transition you are only truly happy if you are working on the things you believe and playing the way you believe. Then you are prepared that even if you fail you know you have done it your way. That was the shift in the last 12 months."
Was there a moment where you thought enough, I'm going for this now?
"I think that qualification. It's very difficult to evolve the team, and win matches, and have to qualify; and we were still only a matter of months into the job. There is often a lot of different objectives when you are playing for England, but I think since then we have been able to evolve the team a lot more and win matches and we have all gained confidence from the ability of the players coming in and the fact they have been able to adapt.
The biggest thing in my life bar family was always England. I am hugely patriotic, so there is no other job that could mean as much and having success in it could mean as much, because I know it affects so many other things.
"Once we saw a few of the younger ones had survived and did well we knew the standard of the others underneath them and said 'well if those two can do it then we are pretty sure these two can', and all of a sudden we have a bigger pool of players, more competition for places and more energy around the group.
"Every time a young player comes in he is excited and wants to prove himself, but also in football the other players want to prove themselves to any new player that comes in, so that competition is the only way to stimulate performance. We can talk a lot and say things, but if you are not looking over your shoulder and feeling the warmth of someone behind you then there is a little bit that can slip in terms of attention to your performance."
As the year has gone on and it seems like decision after decision has worked out for you, have you grown in confidence as a manager?
"You need the evidence of results in the end. When I was a young manager at Middlesbrough I believed in everything I was doing but I didn't have the evidence that it was going to work. With respect, now working with better players you are able to challenge them in a different way and play in a more expansive manner.
"But also you have more experience behind, you know the noise that goes with everything, you are better able to handle every situation, with your support team, the players, the media, the board, everything else. So you just need that experience, and then when you get the results you can say 'well we've got to a World Cup semi-final, we have got to fifth in the world, so we feel we are doing a lot of things right and players are improving and enjoying the experience'.
"Inevitably you do get more confidence."
Your time at Boro, did that help or hinder you? You had two good years but when you look back people will say you are the guy who got them relegated?
"For a few years that is the stigma you are left with. The reality is how can you walk off the field one minute and be the finished article as a manager the next. When I was playing I was still learning at 35, 14 or 15 years after I started, so as a manager you are learning every day, I am sure even the very best would say that. If you are not constantly improving and learning then you are going to be stuck and not progress.
"Lots of things are forgotten. In my view, going from playing there to managing there, compared to managing the England U21s to the senior team, was much harder. To finish 12th in my first year, knowing as little as I did really, was as big an achievement as getting England to a World Cup semi-final.
"We still had wins against Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, but those things are just shelved because the one line is you were relegated, and nobody thinks about the budget, the position the club was in. And nobody really understands unless you have managed how difficult the experience is to manage the dressing room you have just walked out of and being in the really early formative steps of a managerial career, it's impossible to know everything."
You seemed quite cautious about becoming England manager but then you have been really bold in the role. How do those two things fit together?
"I have a tendency to overthink things, or certainly I did. I was probably scarred by getting the sack at Middlesbrough.
"I didn't like the idea that having supported Roy [Hodgson], then Roy leaving and me stepping into his seat; that didn't sit comfortably with me, and I didn't think there would be a lot of enthusiasm at that time for an internal appointment.
"When England don't do so well at a tournament there is always a nailing of the FA and then you move on. But then when Sam [Allardyce] came and went so quickly somebody had to step in at short notice and I knew I was best placed to take the game that was four days away. That gave me a chance to experience what it would feel like and to see if the players would go with some of the ideas.
"We won some games and then I think the public thought 'we've tried everything else, there's some logic to giving it to the bloke who took the youth teams, Germany did it, let's give it a go'.
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"I don't think there was any more enthusiasm than that for it, but it meant then I looked at it as a brilliant life experience and thought if we are going to go for it then let's enjoy it, and as it's progressed let's do it as we really believe. You only get one shot and let's not look back and think I wish I had been a bit bolder in some of those decisions, because at Middlesbrough I look back and think I should have been more ruthless and decisive with certain things. But you can only learn those things by going through."
What has your perspective been on how people view you and becoming really popular?
"It's bizarre. Having had people shout out of vans at me for 15 years because I missed a penalty it is a complete shift, but I have always got that context so I don't get carried away. It's really nice when people come up to you and don't talk about the results, but the summer they had and how they feel about the team. That has been fascinating for me.
"As a manager you immediately assume it's about the wins, but for the national team it's about so much more than that. So the way we play and the fact the public feel a connection with this group of players and the way they have represented the country, that has meant more.
"It wouldn't have been as deep a feeling if we hadn't got to the semi-finals, so you can't disconnect the two things, but part of why we were successful in the summer was the team element. It wasn't about individuals, it was a team, it is a team, the competition for places now is about the team, and we have to maintain and build on that."
Do the letters you've received, the moments people stop you in shops, do they mean more than a penalty save or a winning goal?
"Yeah, definitely. The biggest thing in my life bar family was always England. I am hugely patriotic, so there is no other job that could mean as much and having success in it could mean as much, because I know it affects so many other things. How people feel going to work the next day or sales of beer in pubs, it has an impact on everything.
"At a time when the country is wrestling with its identity and there's a lot of negativity, we have had a year where people have found some solace, hope and enjoyment. Football is entertainment, of course for us it's about winning and wanting to be the best in the world, and we are making progress towards that, but with the national team it is a lot more."
Do you struggle with what has gone on politically? Does that occupy your mind a lot?
"It does because I am English so it affects me. It's difficult because everybody will have a different view, but leadership is important. First and foremost the current prime minister has an impossible job. As a manager sometimes you have a hand of cards and sometimes it's strong, sometimes it's weak, and there's an element of how you play the cards that can decide your fate, but she has an appalling hand and I don't know how you can possibly succeed when you have been left in that situation.
"You can't please people. There are so many disparate functions and factions, so I have to say given that the two jobs have been linked in terms of how difficult they are, she is welcome to hers at the moment because I really feel for her. I have a sense of what that pressure would be, even though I'm nowhere near the level that she has, but it's a really difficult situation to be in."
What has been the high point for you over the last year?
"In terms of moments, because of the history I have been through it's the penalty win against Colombia. We knew that really to achieve some success within the tournament we needed to win a knockout game so the pressure and intensity around the game was huge for everybody.
"But the real highlight is the difference we have made to people and the fact people are enjoying watching the team and feel connected to the team. That's the most important thing we have done all year."