FIFA World Cup 2018: ‘Gareth Southgate led by example at Aston Villa’
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FIFA World Cup 2018: ‘Gareth Southgate led by example at Aston Villa’

At Aston Villa, Gareth Southgate, current manager of the England football team, showed great interest in tactical side of things had the ability to laugh at himself, according to John Gregory.

football Updated: Jul 10, 2018 10:46 IST
John Gregory
John Gregory
FIFA World Cup 2018,Gareth Southgate,John Gregory
Gareth Southgate is being revered all over England for guiding the nation to their first FIFA World Cup semi-final after a gap of 28 years. (Reuters )

As my captain at Aston Villa, Gareth Southgate was a model professional. He gave everything every day in training and always in matches. (FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 FULL COVERAGE)

Back then players used to get fan mails. Gareth would get 200 letters a month and would reply to each one. Other players would throw them in the rubbish bin sometimes without even reading them.

He was thorough in his preparation for games, always eating the right food and refuelling correctly. Gareth led by example on and off the pitch. He always showed great interest in the tactical side of football. Gareth thought things through and was nobody’s fool. He knew his limitations as a player and never crossed those boundaries. Gareth also had the great ability to laugh at himself, which I think is a huge plus in one’s personality.

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There is real freshness and incredible team spirit in this England setup. Since 1990, we have probably had better teams going to the World Cup but they didn’t function as a unit in the way the class of 2018 has. Gareth deserves huge credit for this.

Over the past two decades representing England hasn’t been as big as it should be for many players. Gareth has restored that pride and honour by assembling a group of young and hungry individuals. The hunger and the ability to stick together was perhaps was a key reason for finally breaking the mental barrier of penalties.

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Beating Colombia in the shootout has been looked at as redemption for Gareth because he missed the decisive penalty against Germany 22 years ago in the European Championship semi-final. However, Gareth has ensured that it is the players on whom the limelight is.

If there was one thing Gareth didn’t do very well, it was penalties. We played West Ham in the League Cup in December 1999 and it went to the tie-breaker. Chance to exorcise ’96, I thought. Gareth missed again and we lost 4-5 on pens.

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The league found out that West Ham played an illegal player so the game got replayed at West Ham and we won 3-1. On April 2, 2000, we drew 0-0 in the FA Cup semi-final against Bolton and it went to penalties. Gareth wasn’t on the list to take one. We go 3-1 up with two penalties left for both teams. I suddenly thought of getting Gareth to take our fourth and then I had second thoughts. I left it to Dion (Dublin); he scored and we won.

The togetherness instilled by Gareth has gone beyond the football side of things which was evident when Danny Rose spoke publicly about depression. This would have been unthinkable in the past.

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It definitely helps Gareth that he was the England U-21 boss and worked with players such as John Stones, Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane and even young Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the past. Loftus-Cheek’s inclusion was initially criticised but as the tournament progressed, it became clear that Gareth wanted a group of players committed to play for the shirt irrespective of their role in the team.

Modern-day international football is more about the collective so credit to Gareth for embracing that philosophy and not being pressured to pick ‘names’. His Belgian counterpart Roberto Martinez did something similar by dropping the highly rated Radja Nainggolan and no one seems to be criticising the Spaniard now.

I feel Gareth has used his vast experience as England player to do the right thing with this group. That is where he seems to have scored over other England managers. I am referring to the man-management aspect more than any other detail. I am sure Gareth still has a lot to prove as a coach but two more wins in Russia will create an everlasting legacy.

Even if the lads don’t emulate 1966, it is beyond debate that Gareth and his team has given the country great joy in supporting the national team after a really long time.

John Gregory is the head coach of the reigning Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC. Current England manager Gareth Southgate played under him between 1998-2001.

First Published: Jul 10, 2018 08:19 IST