Gunning For Gareth

The coverage of football and the reaction to that coverage can be very, very odd.

The demise of the really, really greedy Sam Allardyce which was entirely down to personal greed, came too fast.

Within twenty-four hours of the breaking story of how greedy Big Sam really was, and how his advisors were actually there to “big” him up (thank you), rather than warn him that this might be a trap, no longer quite as Big Sam was gone, and eyes turned to his temporary, caretaker successor, Gareth Southgate.

And the coverage of Gareth Southgate’s temporary appointment has not been completely negative – he is a nice guy with a good reputation after all – but it has been rather jaundiced.

The caretaker manager is a bit like the player in a penalty shoot-out who takes the sixth penalty when the scores are tied after five shots each. You know that he isn’t the first choice and you wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he messed things up.

The most famous moment of Gareth Southgate’s career was of course when he missed the crucial penalty kick in the 1996 European Championship semi-final at Wembley.

There he was, stricken and defeated, a national chump destined to be the butt of a very poor gag in a Pizza advert. But he was better than that, much better. His career has predominantly been one of under-stated over-achievement.

He broke into the Palace side in the early nineties, having captained the youth team. With Eric Young and Andy Thorn established at centre-back and because it looked like he could be felled by a sudden gust of wind, Southgate started out as a defensive midfield player.

He didn’t look like a natural footballer, nor did he have the pace and dynamism of say a Kante, but he read the game well and rarely made mistakes.

By the age of twenty-three with Geoff Thomas crocked and headed back up North to Wolves, Southgate was first team captain, a job you might have thought had gone to the more experienced Andy Thorn or John Humphrey.

And Southgate was a successful captain. Take a look at the celebrations when we won the Championship back in 1993/94 and you will see a boyishly young Southgate lifting the historic trophy that we were used to seeing lifted by the likes of Alan Hansen and Tony Adams.

I found a clip on YouTube from that 1993/94 season when Southgate scored in a 3-2 win at the old Ayresome Park. It was a very strong Palace side with the likes of Nigel Martyn, Chris Coleman, Simon Rodger and Chris Armstrong in the side. Look out too for a couple of familiar faces in the opposition as well as Tommy Wright, another to fall foul of the Telegraph’s winning entrapment game this week.

 

 

Fast forward two years and Southgate was first choice England centre back alongside Adams in that Euro 96 semi-final against Germany.

He still wasn’t the most physical player you had ever seen, but continued to be adaptable, intelligent and effective.

In the meantime, he had left Palace for Aston Villa, (not the last Palace skipper to do so) after ‘that’ fourth bottom relegation in 1994/95, and had become an assured centre back (and captain again).

He became disenchanted at Villa and made it clear he wanted to leave the club for bigger and better things, which oddly turned out to be Middlesbrough.

But he played in what became the most successful period in that club’s history, captaining the side to a League Cup victory in 2004 and also playing the UEFA Cup Final in what turned out to be his final game for the club.

He stopped playing as he had accepted the manager’s job, again at the young age of thirty-five, and managed the club for three and a half seasons, which included relegation in 2008/09.

After that initial failure he took a lower profile and lower pressure role as head of elite development at The FA before becoming manager of the England under twenty-one side.

In the middle of that he co-wrote one of the more unusual sporting books, which documented the ups and downs of his career alongside that of his best friend from the Palace academy days. “Woody & Nord” (ghost-written by Lance Armstrong’s nemesis David Walsh) is an enjoyable and rather sweet book and shows both Southgate and his friend in a very positive light.

In case you don’t know “Woody” is Andy Woodman, former slimline youth team keeper, later journeyman lower league keeper and now goalkeeping coach at one of the Premier League’s top sides.

English football needs more decent over-achieving guys like Gareth Southgate in high profile roles if it is ever going to lose the dodgy reputation that the likes of Allardyce, Venables and Harry Redknapp are associated with.

To see Southgate instantly denigrated as too nice and too dull, and not successful enough at the top level indicates it will never happen.

 

 

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