How Southgate’s new approach unlocked a New England

Just as Tony Blair swept to an unexpected victory in the 1997 UK General Election under the banner of "New Labour", it is Gareth Southgate who has transformed his team into a New England.

Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate celebrates England's quarter-final win over Sweden Source: Getty Images

Blair’s success came from understanding what made the country unique and purposeful, whilst recognising the need for radical change and grappling with the challenges of modernity.

A balance had to be struck to match the mood whilst not underestimating identity and pride. He found it - and became one of Britain's most popular post-war leaders. 

So it is with Southgate. Despite being an agent for change, he's also deeply invested in the culture of English football: the psychology, the culture, the heroic tales of 1966 and the series of disappointments before and after.


English football, contrary to the need to be binary in modern football discussions, is not bad or good. It's not all one way of thinking, either.

The south and north barely communicate - likewise the rural and metropolitan communities. It's a fragmented little island with big opinions, very few of which are widely shared. 

The country is a massively diverse ethnic melting pot, full of different expectations and experiences, prejudices and pastimes.

But as the nation has raged politically in recent years, the calming hand of Southgate has been masterful.
It wasn’t that long ago that the England national team was a byword for one of the new problems the country is facing: the haves and have-nots.

This lot were so rich, powerful and famous, supported by beautiful WAGS, that the FIFA World Cup just seemed like another step towards societal conquest. 

On the face of it, this England squad is only half as talented as those teams from 1998 to 2006, a period laden with some of the nation’s most exquisite footballers.

And yet they are twice as selfless, twice as willing to work hard and twice as determined not to get sucked into the off-field circus. 

This cannot be underestimated. Because there’s no way a 32-year Ashley Young would get close to any of the previous squads.

Yet here he is, playing so well, offering so much to the team on and off the field. 

Some may argue they are also twice as fortunate with the fixture list, but we all know what Colombia can do and Sweden demolished some of the game’s best teams to get here.

Ultimately, you can only beat what’s in front of you and they have. 

Southgate has picked a team of men prepared to work exceptionally hard, to put the team first and to commit to doing their jobs to the best of their ability. 

A superb example of this came in the mixed zone after Sunday morning’s (AEST) win over Sweden in Samara.

Gary Cahill must be aching that he’s not playing a bigger part in this tournament, especially with three centre-halves picked ahead of him, but you wouldn’t know it. 

He fronted the media with a big smile, an open heart and plenty to say.

That took the heat off the rest of his teammates, who just wanted to scuttle through the phalanx of reporters and get to their bus without creating a headline. Little things like that make a big difference. 

Incidents like that are visible throughout the team. Southgate has been extremely impressive with the media.

He’s pushed an open-door policy, as much as such a thing can exist in 2018, and has promised to be respectful, win, lose or draw.

The press have, for the most part, overcome their initial scepticism and responded in kind. 

The Raheem Sterling-tattoo incident seems an eon ago and even the revelation of some pre-game tactics was smoothed over when things could have got out of hand. 

Players have responded to the humble, calm lead of their manager.

It’s as though all the club-based egos have been checked at the door and the players are relishing the feeling of dressing-room camaraderie instead of comparing cars, wallets and wives. 

Critically, you can see that they are enjoying their football. When you relax, you perform better. You’re more attuned to what you need to do and how you can help others.

No wonder England finally won a penalty shootout and then smartly dispatched Sweden. 

Croatia awaits, but on what we’ve seen so far, Southgate’s New England will rise for any test that gets thrown their way.

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4 min read
Published 9 July 2018 at 12:20am
By Sebastian Hassett in Samara