by Dom Smith
Gareth Southgate says he considered announcing, ahead of the tournament, his intention to resign after the Qatar World Cup.
The England manager, 52, said in an interview with ITV that increased criticism from fans and pundits made him consider publicly announcing his intention to step down after Qatar to avoid analysis of England being dominated by stick for the manager himself.
England went on to reach the quarter-finals in December, losing to eventual finalists France. When Southgate’s team bowed out in the last eight, they were the tournament’s highest-scoring side. The manager took a week to decide his fate, before electing to continue in the role until his current contract expires after Euro 2024.
Southgate said: “I debated whether that might give the team a better run at the tournament. I felt there was a period where there was negativity about me being in charge. The last thing I wanted was for that to be the overarching feeling before a World Cup. If the debate was only going to be about finding flaws in what we were doing in order that I go in the end then that would have been very difficult for the team to perform at their best.Embed from Getty Images
“My concern was leading into the World Cup. After last summer’s [Nations League] games, I thought it might be possible that the debate over whether I should be manager or not might be divisive for the team. I was a little bit concerned with the games in September that the reaction towards that creates a negativity around the team. I’ve been in teams where that can inhibit performance.”
England failed to win any of their six Nations League group games in June and September 2022, suffering the ignominy of relegation to the second tier for the next edition and losing 4–0 to Hungary in a match which saw a mass exodus from Molineux and many of England’s most loyal supporters turn their backs on the coach for the first time in his tenure. Admittedly, many of those fans were Wolves’s own, usually more concerned by the club’s Premier League live scores than by England. But here, England was the issue at hand.
He said of the team’s World Cup campaign: “I think people were pleased with our performances. Do I think we overachieved? No I don’t. Do I think we underachieved? No I don’t. We won the games we should win but I think the way that we played and the manner of the performances against France showed people that we’re improving still and that we are capable of playing and beating these bigger teams.
“I was fairly clear in my mind [that I would stay on until Euro 2024] as the tournament was progressing, mainly because of how we were playing, the feel I had with the players and the staff, and the acknowledgement from everybody that the team were playing well and are showing signs of progress.
“Although I love the job and I want to do the job, I also don’t want to be someone that’s here and hindering the performance of the team just because I’m the person in charge.Embed from Getty Images
“The performance against France has shown the players if they didn’t believe it before — which, I still wonder whether they truly believed it before the game — coming off the field they know that’s a game they could win and should have won.”
He added: “I feel the team is improving. There will always be the thought that somebody else could do things differently. I’ve got to close myself off from that noise and accept it’s going to happen. But I’m here to take England forward, as I have been for the last six years with the seniors [and] ten years around the whole project. We’re determined to go the next step. It’s never straightforward, but we’re trying to do something extraordinary — and that means a lot of hard work and a lot of heartache at times.
“Ultimately we’ve got to get over the line in these biggest, biggest games now. But bar France, we’ve probably been as consistent across three tournaments as any other country. That’s the aim that we’ve had here at St George’s Park for a long time. If we’re consistently in those latter stages then in the end we’ll learn how to win those big games.”
Southgate said about personal criticism: “I don’t think anyone would choose to walk over at the end of the game and get abuse, but I’ve also been in football long enough to know that I’ve had it over the years. I can deal with it. It isn’t going to deter me in exactly what I do and what I don’t do.Embed from Getty Images
“When you don’t win, the things that haven’t happened are the opportunity for people to criticise what you did. Had Marcus [Rashford] played and the result [against France] been like that, they’d [fans] have been saying Phil Foden should have been on, or Jack Grealish. I’ve got peace with what we did and how we went about it. I also know that’s how the narrative always works after our games.”
Southgate has always promoted youth and shown courage in bringing young players into the England fold early in their careers, often at the expense of selecting more obvious players with more seniority in the men’s game.
“I want England to do well forever. Whenever I leave this role, I’m still an England fan, I want them to do well. So I’m not worried about playing young players that I might not see the benefits of. That’s still got to be part of the process.”
Asked whether winning his final tournament, Euro 2024, is all that matters after three near misses since the 2018 World Cup, Southgate replied: “We don’t know it’s my last tournament yet. But now we’re in a different landscape to any previous England team. Because of the success we’ve had, in our own minds winning is probably the only thing that’s going to fulfil us.”