England manager Gareth Southgate has revealed how being at the FIFA World Cup is exceptionally vital for him. Southgate said this in a recent interview with FIFA+. Southgate shared his World Cup memories and appraisal of what makes the competition unique.
Being at the FIFA World Cup tournament is an exceptional place in the social schedule, everything being equal, even as other memories blur, nobody fails to remember those underlying experience of the game’s most prominent competition.
That said, Gareth Southgate’s experience growing up came after the wonders of ’66, during a period when Three Lions – unbelievable as it would now appear – failed to qualify for two global finals in progression.
“In 1978 I was watching Scotland and, weirdly, supporting Scotland!” he told FIFA+. “Their game with Peru would be one of the first World Cup matches that I remember. I kind of remember that final, with all the ticker tape, although 1982 was the first World Cup where I remember rushing home from school.
Regardless of missing the mark concerning their ultimate goal, the Brazil team at the 1982 FIFA World Cup will be for all time remembered as perhaps of the most exciting team in the competition’s history.
“That was to watch England, but also to watch that Brazilian team. I have some fabulous memories of some incredible football from them. At that time, Brazil seemed like they were from another planet because you didn’t see their players playing as often in Europe as you do now. They would just suddenly appear at these tournaments – legendary names like Zico, Socrates, Junior and Eder. That was a team that had a huge impact on my football memories.
“Then there was ‘86 with England, getting to the quarter-finals, and 1990, getting to the semis – I was glued to every minute of those World Cups. I think I watched nearly every game of every team that was playing.”
Southgate’s reminiscences are sure to resonate with supporters of a similar vintage. Football, though, is now so much more readily available and viewable than it was during the era he describes, and leading players – regardless of the country or continent – no longer carry the same air of mystery and exoticism.
Given all that, and the high-calibre club competitions broadcast globally seven days-a-week, does he really believe that the World Cup retains its pre-eminent place in people’s affections?
“I do,” he answered decisively. “We have an amazing product here in England with the Premier League, but the realities are that – just taking this country in isolation – even the best matches get four or five million viewers. A big World Cup night, on the other hand, can get 25 million-plus.
“The World Cup reaches beyond the regular football fan – it reaches nan, grandad, aunt, uncle, and brings families together. So without a doubt, I think the World Cup is still as special to football supporters.
“But it’s also still the pinnacle for players too. The Champions League is a fantastic tournament but to be one of 11 walking out representing your country, representing millions, is an incredibly proud moment for anybody and is still the biggest honour you can have.”
In explaining the World Cup’s unique and enduring appeal so elegantly, Southgate also inadvertently highlights the burden that he bears. After all, when England comes together to cheer on the Three Lions in Qatar, the onus will be on him to ensure that nans, grandads, aunts, uncles and a football-obsessed nation are not left disappointed.
Dealing with that immense pressure, he says, is a classic exercise in controlling the controllables.
“You have to accept that there’s going to be expectation and a desire from everyone to do well. And I’m an England fan first and foremost, so I’m exactly the same,” he said. “But you’ve also got to separate that from focusing on the details of your job and the question of how we keep improving as a team.
“Of course, football is emotional and you want to draw on that emotion. But I’m very clear on what my job is and not feeling burdened by anything outside. If I sit there and think about all those millions of people, I’m going to be focused on the wrong things.”
Southgate also never loses sight of the fact that pressure, in this context, is a privilege. He grew up watching the World Cup, dreaming of one day being involved, and has now achieved that ambition both on the pitch and in the dugout.