Gareth Southgate’s special qualities may be lost amid political wrangling | Gareth Southgate
AAt the end of England’s semi-final victory over Denmark, Gareth Southgate appeared on Wembley pitch and crossed over to commune with the English supporters. A little tired, but still dapper and stylish and looking, as always, like a benevolent infantry officer who secretly writes poetry, Southgate made it to the west end of Wembley, the end of which the boos before the kickoff had emerged earlier in the tournament. , but who responded now in a great wave of noise as Southgate waved and whimpered in response.
Watching Southgate commune with Deep Flag England, it was hard to assimilate that bellicose former professional footballer from Crawley, Gareth who once had a huge stand-up row with his best friend because he didn’t take his cap off in a restaurant, with the idea, prevalent in recent days, that England and Southgate might not accept an invitation to meet the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street if they win Euro 2020. Gareth is a voice for the tolerance. Gareth is a “deep awakening” tool. Gareth also loves the flag and worships the military. And whatever you say it is, most likely it is not.
Such has been the feverish political traffic around Southgate, there is a danger of losing sight, just a little, of its most vital qualities.
As England go through the final systems checks for Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, it’s tempting to wonder what will be left of Southgate, what weird and distorted shape his public profile will take if England continues. and wins.
Three years ago, as the team unexpectedly crossed Russia in 2018, the whole world made Southgate something of a pop culture cartoon. There were “takes” from Gareth, purring appreciations of his moving beauty as deputy director, and already some assertions about his politics, his status as an eloquent spokesperson for common sense. But above all Southgate 2018 was a kind of Peter Blake cutout: waistcoat, beaké, punch in the air.
Cut to the present day and it’s surprising how politicized the Southgate character has become. Southgate never talks about politics. He mentioned Brexit once, an unfavorable reference to some of the rumors surrounding the departure process. He’s vocally anti-racist in the things he says and does, which can be considered politics if you stand against it.
In a time when everything, everywhere is fiercely polarized, it was inevitable that Southgate and his team would be hoisted like a totem pole to the left, as in the jungle of social media, every England victory, even the goals marked and abandoned team sheets, are greeted. with a bunch of government tweets, even Brexit, for some reason, bundled with stuff on masks and vaccines.
In addition, of course, Southgate has become a target and general straw man on the right, accused in parts of the Internet of “wokery” and treacherous multiculturalism. Toxic, Divider, and Ridiculous Rod Liddle called it Toxic, Divider, and Ridiculous (also “thick”). This week the Daily Telegraph, which backs Boris Johnson, ran a Southgate article condemning Gary Neville’s rant against Boris Johnson on Southgate TV, a nuclear-scale fusion of ideas and oppositions that probably should be buried. under 4000 tonnes of concrete and left to degrade for the next 500 years.
Theorizing on Southgate’s over-theorizing is, of course, a rabbit hole in itself. But there is a frustration in all of this, and above all a loss of clarity. Southgate’s success and its best qualities have something to tell us. To politicize it so narrowly is also to misunderstand what this England team and this English manager are trying to tell us. We’re almost there now. Southgate and England are on the verge of becoming something indelible, a piece of popular culture in perpetuity. It is important to do it well.
Southgate’s success as manager of English football hinges above all on clarity and individual responsibility, on things that appear to be the polar opposite of tribal politics. Southgate is interested in truth, detail, kindness and thoroughness. These are the qualities that made the England football team so successful, in part because there was so much time to waste here.
His character, outlook and willingness to challenge existing structures reflects to some extent his own time in football, his own very English kind of underdog. Southgate was “North” in his early days at Crystal Palace, so called because he spoke “classy” (he was a working class boy) and had eight O levels (two A’s, four B’s, two C’s).
At first he was skinny, cheesy, and sluggish. “You have to fucking toughen yourself up. As a travel agent or real estate agent, you would be perfect. As a footballer, no fucking luck, ”Alan Smith told him in an almost fatal bullshit. Southgate has made a record number of reserve appearances at the Palace. He almost fell asleep.
He then played 57 times for England. But he occasionally suffered, hated gambling, saw carelessness and laziness all around him. With England, he never really recovered from the weirdness of finding out he would play in midfield to score Mehmet Scholl in what would be Kevin Keegan’s last game, with no training or preparation, and then seeing this leaked to the press, discussed with disdain on TV before it even happened – only to find out early in Germany that Scholl had been moved to another post anyway.
If Southgate has a cause it is a war against that kind of laziness, carelessness, philistinism and the law which have always been an obstacle to progress with England. Famous, the first time Walter Winterbottom produced a painting at a team meeting in England, there was a near riot over such schoolteacher practices. For so long the basic notion of just ‘being England’ to have English players, English stars (‘Norwegians in awe of him’) has been deemed sufficient.
That’s what Southgate’s humility, attention to detail, working hours with Steve Holland analyzing opponents, data and player performance come up against. If Southgate also has a contempt for prejudice, closed doors, iniquity, it seems to come from the same human impulse – the idea of rigor, of meritocracy, an open door to talent, to new things, to people who have had to. pushing too hard for the same treatment in the past.
If these attributes of honesty and clairvoyance have positioned him politically on the left, like a sort of Boris Johnson upside down, it may be because the current Prime Minister so vigorously embodies the opposing qualities. But for Southgate, it’s not about politics. It is an accidental deep awakening, a second nature progressivity. And while the rest of the world may be eager to hang on to those qualities, and with campaign revenge if England win on Sunday, it’s worth remembering that Gareth’s best comes – really, hands free. – from Gareth himself, and from Football.