Has Southgate singlehandedly saved the reputation of football?

Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

England’s football manager Gareth Southgate may be the man who goes down in history for achieving the impossible – and it’s not necessarily England winning the World Cup.

No, this is an achievement far greater than that; he may get the most entrenched members of the ‘Anyone But England’ brigade actually cheering the Three Lions to their ultimate goal.

Of course, a little bit of it this time is down to their captain too – because we’re claiming Harry Kane as one of our own, a Connemara man with a Cockney accent but with no denying his West-of-Ireland roots.

However, this new empathy with England is ever more to do with a man who has suddenly come to epitomise all that is good in sport and life – modesty, empathy, sportsmanship, family values, and magnanimity in victory or defeat.

In short, he’s a complete antithesis to the usual stereotype of the brash, overpaid, pampered prima donna of a football star we’ve come to know and loathe.

The past week has seen story after glowing story about the England manager to a point where he makes Mother Teresa seem like a Mafia crime boss.

Nice and ordinary are recurring characteristics. These can often be just about the last two words you want to hear to describe your personality – but Southgate has somehow turned them into a virtue.

It’s not that he hasn’t backbone; you don’t carve out a career as an international centre-half or England football manager without a steely resolve. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to take it home with him.

Actions speak louder than words – so reflect on his reaction after England finally shook off their penalty hoodoo against Columbia.

Of course, he celebrated by punching the air in delight but there was no knee slide in his good suit; instead his first thought was to seek out Mateus Uribe, the Columbian who’d just missed the final spot-kick to console him.

Southgate knows what that feels like of course because it was his fate at Euro ’96 – but to have the presence of mind to think of the opposition before celebrating the greatest night of your managerial career is remarkable.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.