Bullish and decisive Gareth Southgate is morphing into Jose Mourinho – he is England’s Special One
THEY were the sort of words that you might expect Jose Mourinho to deliver on the eve of an epic match: Self-assured, decisive and bullish.
Gareth Southgate might not quite have the charisma and bombast of Mourinho but — in his own quiet, measured way — the England manager was oozing with confidence ahead of the World Cup quarter-final against France.
Southgate told us he had picked his team to face the world champions as early as Monday — and it is expected to be unchanged from the side which ruthlessly disposed of Senegal in the last 16.
He was adamant that his side have improved significantly since the last World Cup.
He demanded his men ‘stand up’ and ‘nail’ this fixture and insisted they are ‘not ready to go home’.
And after his own decision- making was widely questioned when England tossed away leads in the 2018 World Cup semi-final to Croatia and last year’s Euros final against Italy, he sounded full of self-belief about his own qualities too.
Southgate is England’s Special One.
It is a cast-iron fact that he is the most successful Three Lions manager for over half a century.
Now, his words — if not his manner — have the smack of vintage Mourinho about them.
Asked whether he had decided on his formation, there was no suggestion of any dithering over possibly switching to a five-man defence — and it would be an extraordinary curveball if he moved away from his 4-3-3 now.
Southgate said: “We decided on Monday. We’d already watched all the games of France, we’d already reviewed our game against Senegal.
“So we were very clear on the right path — because then you’ve got to deliver that through the week.
“I know people think I have a preference for a certain system, but if anything my preference has always been 4-3-3, I just don’t think it’s always been appropriate for us to get the best out of the team.
“The job is not just to have a philosophy, the job is to win football matches. You can have a philosophy — but if you’re going home at the start of the tournament, then the philosophy doesn’t wash really.”
Spain and Germany stuck rigidly to an idealist version of possession football and they are now at home doing their Christmas shopping.
Southgate’s England have always been flexible and pragmatic. Going into the quarter-finals, no side had scored more goals or kept more clean sheets at this World Cup.
And Southgate is confident his blend of wise old heads and fearless youth are capable of handling one of the biggest matches of their lives against Kylian Mbappe and Co at the Al Bayt Stadium.
He said: “We have got individual players with big-match experience and I have no fear about the young ones, because they are just going to go and play.
“In big games, big players step up and they can be decisive. We have been doing that in this tournament.
“On these nights, you’ve got to have men who stand up and take on the challenge. That’s the bit we’ve got to prove to people.
“If you asked me four years ago were we quite ready, I’m not sure.
“Now I feel differently — and that’s because we’ve got evidence over a long period.
“I have confidence in the players, we are in a good place.
“So when France have those moments, which they are bound to have — and we are going to have similar moments — we must be steadfast and continue to be brave.”
Regarding his own abilities and experience, Southgate is a man comfortable in his own skin.
So comfortable he won’t attempt to give a Churchillian pre-match team talk — in fact, he won’t make any speech in the dressing-room.
Southgate added: “By that time my work is done, so I leave it to Harry Kane and the players.
“When I was a player, a lot of times managers spoke before kick-off, and I thought ‘I’m ready, all you can do now is mess it up for me!’
“If we don’t win, I know where the buck will stop. But that’s fine, I’m the manager, I have to take responsibility.
“I feel good about where I am on my decision-making and my energy — my excitement for the game.
“I’d be an idiot if I hadn’t learned in five years managing some of the biggest games in world football, the most high-profile players in Europe.
“And, going through the experience of having one of the most high-profile jobs in the country, you learn quite a lot.”
On the prospect of this being the last match he takes charge of at a World Cup, Southgate said: “It is not the stage where we are ready to go home.
“And it is not the point where we are even thinking of going home.”