Gareth Southgate has been credited with transforming the culture and attitude in the England international fold since his appointment in November 2016.
The internal friction between the squad, one which largely derived from rivalries at club level, appears to have been eradicated. England also ended their penalty shootout hoodoo at the 2018 World Cup and reached a semi-final at a major competition for the first time since 1996 at the same tournament.
Though he wasn’t a particularly popular appointment at the time, Southgate’s success both on and off the field have earned him the respect of a large majority of England supporters.
But just how has he cultivated this fresh sense of optimism?
How has Southgate managed to bring the players together and ensure that professionalism underpins the squad?
Well, ahead of the start of Euro 2020, Southgate spoke in depth about his decision making and managerial ethos during a wide ranging interview on the High Performance Podcast.
Having delivered a gushing assessment of Declan Rice’s leadership traits at such a tender age, the Three Lions boss was asked to explain why Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson were selected as England’s captain and vice captain respectively.
“First and foremost because we wanted a culture where the players are driven to be the best they can possibly be. They have different personalities and different strengths and different weaknesses.
“But we need an environment where culturally the drive is to be the best in the world, and those two are – they’re driven to be the best that they can possibly be.”
Kane and Henderson lead by example for both club and country. Perhaps they’re not the most gifted footballers in the England squad, but their respective successes at club level attest to how diligently they have worked to rise into the elite bracket.
Henderson, in particular, has faced stark criticism from large sections of the media and Liverpool supporters during his career, but years of experience have enabled him to blossom into a pulsating all-action midfielder – one with the right qualities to inspire the next generation of young English talent.
“They also both recognise that although they will get enormous individual credit, and both have, although that’s been a lot longer in coming for Jordan than it has for Harry because of the nature of his position,” said Southgate.
“But they recognise that it’s about being in a winning team in the end. So they’ve been brilliant at helping young players come in and settle. They’ll sit with them at dinner and make that initial bit easier than maybe they felt it was for them at the start.
“It’s the standards of what they do every day and how they are as human beings.
“I could regret saying this but I don’t think I’m going to see either of them staggering out of a nightclub on the eve of the Euros! Maybe they do but I don’t think so.
“They’re small things, but they’re not small things because they set the tone for everything else.”
The context of what Southgate is saying is important here.
England players have infamously made tabloid headlines down the years, and poor attitudes have been used to explain past failures in tournaments when they were widely fancied to go the distance.
The talent within the squad has often given the nation something to dream of, but the mentality of the players has often been found wanting.
And that’s something Southgate alluded to by closing his explanation with his tongue-in-cheek verdict on Kane and Henderson’s antics away from the field.
We’d be just as shocked as you to see Kane in Paul Gascoigne’s dentist chair, Gareth.
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