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Transformation Takes Time: The Gareth Southgate Effect on English Football

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July 11, 2024
CEO, Founder & Executive Coach
3 min read
Gareth Southgate's focus on youth, tactical evolution, and positive culture has steadily transformed English football, leading to success in Euro 2024.

Transformation Takes Time: The Gareth Southgate Effect on English Football

Transformation, in any field, rarely happens overnight. It takes vision, perseverance, and patience. In the realm of football, few examples illustrate this better than the transformation of the English national team under the stewardship of Gareth Southgate. His tenure, marked by steady progress and significant milestones, especially getting to the European Championships this summer (2024), exemplifies how patience and long-term planning can lead to success.

The Beginning of a New Era

Gareth Southgate's appointment as England manager in November 2016 came at a turbulent time. The national team was reeling from a humiliating exit at the hands of Iceland in the Euro 2016 knockout stage and public confidence was at an all-time low. Initially appointed as a caretaker, Southgate brought a calm and measured leadership approach that contrasted sharply with the turmoil surrounding the team.

Emphasising Youth and Development

From the outset, Southgate made it clear that he intended to rebuild the team with a focus on youth and development. He leveraged his experience as the manager of England's under-21 team to integrate promising young talents into the senior squad. Players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Marcus Rashford became central figures, while new talents such as Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden were gradually introduced.

This emphasis on youth was about more than injecting fresh energy into the team. It was about creating a long-term vision, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and building a squad capable of competing at the highest levels for years to come. Getting to the EURO 2024 final reflects this investment.

Tactical Evolution

Southgate's tactical approach has also evolved significantly. Initially criticised for a conservative style of play, he gradually shifted towards a more dynamic and flexible system. The switch to a back-three formation, prominently used during the 2018 World Cup, allowed England to play to their strengths, utilising pace and creativity on the flanks.

By the time Euro 2020 arrived, Southgate had refined his tactics further. A more assertive and possession-based approach complemented the team's defensive solidity. This evolution was crucial in England's journey to the final, where they demonstrated resilience, tactical intelligence, and a newfound confidence.

Breaking Psychological Barriers

Southgate's most significant achievement has been breaking the psychological barriers that have long plagued English football. The penalty shootout victory over Colombia in the 2018 World Cup marked the first time England had won a World Cup penalty shootout, banishing ghosts of past failures. This victory was more than just a statistical achievement; it was a symbolic moment that demonstrated the mental toughness and composure instilled by Southgate and proved so valuable in their game against Switzerland in the Euros 2024 – 5 penalties from 5!

The team have shown remarkable character and unity throughout the tournament. Southgate's leadership, characterised by empathy, humility, and a focus on collective effort, has fostered this resilient mindset and is the foundation of their ongoing success.

Building a Positive Culture

Southgate's influence extends beyond the pitch. He has been a vocal advocate for social issues, using his platform to address racism, mental health, and inequality. His support for players taking a knee to protest racial injustice and his open discussions about mental health have resonated widely, contributing to a more inclusive and supportive team environment.

This positive culture is reflected in the team's camaraderie and sense of purpose. Southgate has cultivated an environment where players feel valued and empowered as athletes and individuals. This holistic approach has enhanced team cohesion and strengthened the bond between the team and its supporters.

The Road Ahead

Although Gareth Southgate continues to lead England in a major final, his transformation is still a work in progress. The progress made under his tenure is undeniable, and hopefully, it's coming home on Sunday, but there are still challenges to overcome. The ultimate goal remains winning a major tournament, and I hope Sunday’s final will provide this.

Gareth Southgate's tenure as England manager is a testament that transformation takes time. His strategic focus on youth development, tactical evolution, psychological resilience, and building a positive culture has revitalised the national team and the nation.

While the journey is far from complete, Southgate's foundation promises a bright future for English football, built on the principles of patience, vision, and unwavering commitment to learning and being better.

We wish Gareth and the England team all the best for Sunday. It's coming home!