The real hero of the 2018 World Cup
England might have lost to Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals, but there’s plenty to still be positive about.
We’re not just talking about their best finish in a World Cup in 28 years.
We’re not even talking about Harry Kane winning the Golden Boot, his 6 strikes putting him two ahead of his nearest rival.
No, because one of the best things to come from this World Cup is an enduring love for Gareth Southgate.
The England coach was one of those people who many had no strong opinions about before the tournament, but that’s no longer the case after he showed plenty of class in Russia this summer.
Here’s just a selection of his finest moments.
1. His hugs of consolation after the defeat to Croatia
The extra-time loss will have been devastating, but Southgate knew the last thing his players will have wanted was to feel alone. In a sport full of men reluctant to make outward displays of emotion, he knew what was needed and was not going to compromise.
2. His hugs of celebration after England’s victories
Yes, he’s a hugger, but he doesn’t just save it for the low moments. Sometimes you just need a hug – Kieran Trippier did after the win over Panama – and it takes a classy man to know when that is the case.
3. This lovely touch after the Croatia game
Sure, his own players might have been the biggest priority, but Southgate accepted England had been beaten by a team that gave everything. He knew Luka Modrić and his teammates had played well, and he wasn’t going to let bitterness stop him from congratulating them.
4. His handwritten notes to England staff
England social media man Jim Lucas shared a handwritten note Southgate provided him at the start of the World Cup. How many other coaches would be so inclusive and adopt such a personal approach to non-playing staff.
5. His refusal to rule out an England return for Joe Hart
Other coaches might have used Joe Hart’s omission from England’s 2018 World Cup squad as an excuse to end the Manchester City man’s England career then and there, but not Southgate. He publicly left the door open for Hart, who he knew will have been devastated to miss out on the tournament.
6. The way he speaks about his Middlesbrough sacking
Middlesbrough gave Southgate his first managerial job in football, but sacked him after relegation and a difficult start in the second tier. Has he held it against them? No; instead he’s even brought up his sacking as evidence of the way he’s grown and learned from his experiences.
7. His performance in that Pizza Hut advert
Rather than dwelling on his Euro ‘96 penalty miss, Southgate was able to turn a negative into a positive with his appearance in the 90s ad. And how could you not love him more after watching this?
8. Taking that Euro ‘96 penalty to begin with
Given an opportunity to take a penalty, knowing England’s record and the recriminations which could follow, Southgate put his best foot forward. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t a regular penalty taker, he was willing to risk hurt to save his teammates from going through the same - a point acknowledged at the time by none other than Liam Gallagher.
9. Replying personally to fans who contacted him after Euro ‘96
Following that miss, there plenty will have felt as though they wanted to put an arm around Southgate, and some even wrote personal letters to him through his club Aston Villa. The fact that he took the time to reply – even apologising for taking a while – says a lot.
10. That waistcoat
And a bonus number 11….
Short Gareth Southgate story ahead of the biggest game of his management career tonight...— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
Back in 2007 I was working on Sportsround on CBBC. I spent my time interviewing all kinds of sports people, plenty of whom were footballers.
I quickly got used to being kept waiting 2-3 hours past the time the interview should happen, interviews being cancelled at the last moment, or doing interviews in nondescript rooms to keep us away from seeing training or interrupting players.— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
10 minutes after we were due to chat to Gareth he came running down the small hill from the training complex to the pitch where we were standing, apologising profusely that he got held up in a meeting. He immediately knew my name...and the name of all the crew I was working with!— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
Straight away he said ‘come and meet the players’ and took us right into the centre of the training pitch, stopped the players working, and told them about us and how crucial he believed sport was on children’s TV to inspire the next generation— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
We were then asked what WE wanted to do. Which players WE wanted to speak to, whether WE wanted to stick around for the whole of training. Nothing was too much trouble. At the end of training, and our filming, he was the one shaking hands, thanking us for coming, seeing us out.— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
And 10 yrs later he leads his country into our biggest game in a decade. I’m so pleased a good guy is getting what he deserves, & from what I’ve seen of his press conferences, his relationship with the media, & how open his players have been, he has stayed true to his principles— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
Not exactly a life-changing story, but hopefully a little life-affirming. To Gareth and every player pulling on the jersey tonight...we are a nation who believe, and nation who have your backs— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) July 3, 2018
GOOD LUCK!!! 👍🏻⚽️
I mean, does anything scream ‘class’ more than this? No, of course not.