Cry God, for England, Harry and St George Gareth
Well, that was fun. For a few short, glorious days, it looked as though the unthinkable was about to happen.
Ahh those sweet few weeks. The sun was shining, the wheel had yet to fully come off the Government’s Brexit plans, and the England football team, far from being in a group-of-death as in so many other years, found themselves instead in a dream-group, able to carry our hopes far further than anyone had thought they would. The combination of the golden foot of Harry Kane, the magic expanding hand of Jordan Pickford and the mystical properties of the M&S waistcoat served to boost the nation’s morale like nothing since the London 2012 Olympics.
Alas, we probably did what we always do and took it all too far – after the game with Sweden you would have the thought the trophy was on its way to FA HQ, instead of requiring the rather steeper hurdles of Croatia and France to overcome. No matter, it made us feel good and showed what can happen, not just if you dare to dream, but rather more sensibly, if you dare to think differently about how you train.
At the risk of sounding like one of those motivational speakers that try to shoehorn their experience into whatever industry they’ve been paid too speak to, there’s a lot that business can learn from Southgate’s approach. How often have we heard at conferences and seminars the phrase “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get the results you’ve always got”?
We talk a lot in this industry about the need to bring in younger, fresher talent. And that is exactly what Southgate did. I’ve lost count of the number of ties merchants have told me that, when recruiting, they actively seek out those individuals who have the right attitude and ability to work in a team, in the knowledge that there is enough training infrastructure out there to teach them the details. And that is exactly what Southgate did.
Don’t forget, when England started on this World Cup journey, Sam Allardyce was still manager and Wayne Rooney captain. Had Allardyce not got caught out by a Telegraph sting with his fingers in the proverbial, would England have done as well? I don’t believe so. I think it took the outside-the-box, thinking of the be-whiskered, be-waistcoated Gareth Southgate to change the team’s progress through the rounds and also our perception of what constitutes a successful England football team.
A man who has been there, done it and worn the hair shirt for years knew how he wanted his team to play. He decided on his template and then he went out and recruited the players to fit that template. He recruited for attitude and the ability to see things differently. There were no prima donnas in that team, no bigger-than-the-team stars, just really talented Premiership players whose only agenda was to get out there and show what they could do on the biggest stage the game has. They bought into Southgate’s vision and they performed for him. And when he commiserated with Columbia’s Mateus Uribe for his penalty miss, not only was Southgate’s redemption complete, but there was also barely a female viewer who wasn’t by then a little bit in love with him.
Football was on its way home, it just got bumped off the flight and is now on stand-by. It’ll get here eventually. Keep the faith.