#FIFA World Cup

Gareth Southgate on England's World Cup journey and the importance of managing staff

FIFA, 27 Jun 2023


In this interview, Gareth Southgate reflects on England's recent progress, as well as discussing how to make the best use of a national squad and the crucial importance of a strong backroom team.

England's development since 2018
England are still waiting for a first major title since 1966, but they have made significant progress in recent years, and Southgate begins by taking stock of that progress. The Three Lions came into the 2018 World Cup having not won a knockout match at a major tournament in ten years, but they have since developed into serious contenders, reaching a European Championship final and going toe-to-toe with France at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.

The importance of wide play
One of the most obvious signs of England's development under Southgate is the way they use their wide players. England used wing-backs at the 2018 World Cup, but they now play with more width. This is both a deliberate reaction to the way top sides close down the space in central areas and a natural consequence of the emergence of talented wingers who can beat defenders 1v1, such as Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Lessons from FIFA's analysis of the 2022 World Cup
Southgate has always said that possession doesn't guarantee success. FIFA's analysis of the 2022 World Cup backs him up, because it shows that a lot of teams were able to win matches while letting their opposition dominate the ball. As far as the other conclusions are concerned, each team will focus on the areas most relevant to them, but all the data will come in useful, particularly when preparing game plans against specific opposition.

The challenge of managing a national side
Having spent most of his managerial career at the English FA, Southgate is well aware of the unique challenge that comes with managing a national side. Perhaps the most obvious difficulty an international manager needs to overcome is they fact they cannot recruit players to fit their preferred system, and instead have to find a system to fit the players available. This inevitably leads to compromises, and making the right choices can be the key the success. 

The crucial role of youth tournaments
We might assume that information only flows from the senior side down the age pyramid, but the channel actually runs both ways. As England's junior teams have enjoyed more success over recent years, they have learned important lessons about tournament football that can be applied at senior level. At the same time, though, Southgate is conscious that youth tournaments are there to help young players to develop individually, and encouraging that development is major priority.

Building a strong group
England's progress on the pitch has been mirrored behind the scenes. As Southgate explains, his players' expectations have changed in recent years, and they have become more resilient as a squad as they have learned to deal with setbacks, negative media attention, and the logistical demands of tournament football. They have also gained in confidence, although the boss is careful to make sure that confidence doesn't turn into complacency on the pitch.

The role of backroom staff
The English FA is very well resourced, and its tournament delegations include more staff than players. This means it is the staff who set the culture of the squad, and the players who are expected to adapt to that culture. It also makes it crucially important for the backroom staff to be in top form, which means helping each individual member to manage their workload and energy levels in a way that works for them.

Looking ahead to 2026
Over recent seasons, England sides in all age groups have learned a lot about what it takes to go deep into major tournaments. Southgate is confident that his team will evolve again over the next international cycle as more youngsters begin to make their mark. His young squad is still developing, and that development will give them a great chance of winning the major trophy they have been craving for almost 60 years.

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