It’s time for me to eat my words, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I was originally underwhelmed with the appointment of Gareth Southgate as England manager back in November 2016.
Following the sacking of Sam Allardyce as England boss, I felt that Southgate was seen as a safe option from the FA. I thought they’d want a bland yes man following Allardyce’s short but controversial stint to avoid any future bad PR and with Southgate, I thought they’d got it.
Skip forward to the summer of 2018 and Southgate has completely shrugged off that boring, dull, ‘yes man’ persona and I’ve joined the masses in the It’s Coming Home mood that’s sweeping the nation. He’s even now seen as a fashion guru – Marks & Spencer have sold out of waistcoats that the England boss has styled during the tournament.
Social media is awash with posts about Southgate, including a hashtag of #GarethSouthgateWould where Twitter users have made humorous remarks about what an excellent bloke Southgate is. Twitter has been huge during this tournament and social media has never been so kind towards an England manager.
But how and why has this change in reputation for Southgate happened?
PR is all about managing and enhancing reputations and it’s fair to say that The FA’s communication team have played an absolute blinder this tournament compared to previous years.
There has been the openness allowed with Southgate and his players to the press. Former players and managers were often reluctant to talk to the press and open up. As a result, they were seen as out-of-touch and too pampered – the same cannot be said for Southgate or his players.
Before the tournament, Southgate received praise when he was asked about the prospect of the racism his England team may face in Russia.
While many would have just given a stock answer or the standard ‘no comment’, Southgate said: “We keep pointing the finger at Russia on racism, but we’ve got to get our own house in order. I can give you an example. I had a really interesting couple of hours with Troy Townsend a couple of weeks ago, speaking to our coaches.
He showed a picture of our Under-16s on social media. The comments about that team were disgusting. They’re part of our England family.” It was clear from this point that Southgate wasn’t just going to be some bland yes man.
In Euro 2016, back when England were managed by Roy Hodgson, Joe Hart refused to talk about their own darts tournament to the media.
At this World Cup, however, the press took part in a Media v Players darts game. Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but it allowed the press to get the know the players and Southgate up close and personal. John Cross from The Mirror went to say, after the darts game, that Gareth Southgate is a breath of fresh air. A simple but effective PR tactic.
As well as the darts game, The FA had a PR tactic of hosting a Superbowl style interview where all players were in separate booths available for interview in a media day where there were no rules about which questions couldn’t be asked. This allowed the players to come across as more humanised and Southgate is no exception to that either.
The changing relationship between the England manager and the press is a welcomed change. After all, who could forget Fabio Capello confronting and shouting at photographers and cameramen at the 2010 World Cup?
Or when the hapless Steve McClaren answered only two questions in a post-match press conference and then said to the media: “Gentlemen, if you want to write whatever you want to write, you can write it because that is all I am going to say. Thank you,” before walking out?
As previously stated about the #GarethSouthgateWould hashtag, people are very quick to talk about what a likeable bloke Southgate is in a sport filled with big characters and even bigger egos. Southgate infamously missed his penalty in the shootout against Germany in Euro 96, when England defeated Colombia on penalties in this tournament, Southgate was quick to console the Colombian player who missed the vital penalty. A genuine class act that was photographed and published in newspapers around the world.
And when others lost their head over the England team sheet being leaked in the press, Southgate kept his cool. Instead of slating the press, like others were (myself included), the England boss said that “it didn’t bother him the slightest”, keeping both his positive relationship with the press and his nice guy persona intact. Win-win.
The team that was leaked was for the game against Panama, which England won 6-1 to secure their place in the Round of 16. The Round of 16 game saw England win their first ever penalty shootout at a World Cup, which confirmed their place in the quarters which saw England see past Sweden whom they had never before defeated in an international tournament.
The semi-finals now beckon, the best that England have performed in a World Cup since 1990. National pride is at a high, Southgate is adorned back home by the English public who are daring to dream of the side bringing football home.
And what if Southgate and co. do bring it home and end all those years of hurt? Well, odds have been slashed for Gareth to receive a knighthood and you certainly wouldn’t bet against it!