football

Gareth Southgate is already a winner, he has united an entire nation


Gareth Southgate has made England whole again.

Whatever happens this monumental sporting Sunday, Southgate has achieved the almost unthinkable.

Throughout a semi-final fraught with almost unbearable tension, the nation’s unity was the common denominator.

It drove these players on, make no mistake.

Somehow, even within the confines of a Wembley that crackled with emotion, you could feel the fierce pull of the population.

Southgate has said, repeatedly, that the England manager and his team could not, on its own, unite a nation.



Gareth Southgate's side booked their place in the final with a dramatic 2-1 win over Denmark
Gareth Southgate’s side booked their place in the final with a dramatic 2-1 win over Denmark

They are giving it one hell of a try.

On this one day in July, it certainly felt united, as united as it has been in many a moon.

The squabbling and angst over the latest Covid regulations? Forgotten for a night.

The divisions caused by the grim fallout from such terrible times?

Set aside on a late sunlit evening that stretched into the thrill of darkness.

There was a common national cause, championed by that rarest of beasts – a dignified leader in the public eye.

A sensible, straightforward, compassionate character has captured the affection of an entire country. And that is no exaggeration.

This is because, in high office, that sort of individual is a very rare beast.

It was at the old Wembley, 25 years ago, that Southgate experienced, in very relative terms, a low point in his distinguished career – that costly missed penalty in a Euro semi-final.

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Harry Kane's goal was the difference on a memorable night for England
Harry Kane’s goal was the difference on a memorable night for England

So to even walk out, in charge of this England side, ahead of this game was poignant in itself.

I have long been in the school that believes an England manager should be judged on results, and results only.

But Southgate would test that theory to its very limit.

He has become a figurehead, has represented his country with such distinction, that maybe the capture of trophies alone should not decide his future.

But come Sunday night, that debate might well be irrelevant.

He might well bring football home. European football, at least.

And one thing is for sure, he will not want to stay in a post because he is an all-round decent guy and a fine orator.

He will want to stay in it – or even leave it – as a winner, proven as an accomplished coach.

In that sense, maybe this was actually not his finest exhibit.

He won, yes, and, at this stage, that really is all that counts.

But England made mightily hard work of finishing off a Danish team that looked out on its feet.



England are now one game from sporting immortality
England are now one game from sporting immortality

Southgate made only one substitution in normal time and after Harry Kane had nudged them ahead in extra time, England went on the back foot.

But it was clear from pretty early on in this contest that there was one thing that England would have to battle without Southgate’s assistance … nerves.

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Never mind Jordan Pickford shaking on the grand stage, the amount of time England gave away first half possession was unforgivable.

And giving away free-kicks proved predictably costly when Mikkel Damsgaard struck.

What were England made of? Pretty stern stuff, hence the equaliser, through a Simon Kjaer own goal, just before half-time.

It set up a finale that ebbed and flowed, that would provide another test of Southgate’s credentials.

And he and his squad passed it. Just.



Southgate's squad came from behind to beat Denmark at Wembleyy
Southgate’s squad came from behind to beat Denmark at Wembley

But then again, he and his squad have passed so many examinations of their professionalism and character.

Now, Southgate has the chance to win England’s first major trophy in over half a century and only the second ever in this football nation’s history.

It will not be easy. It will be the mightiest test of his career.

But whatever happens, Southgate is already a winner.

He has made us whole again.





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