Exceptional Gareth Southgate stays grounded amid tidal wave of national hysteria

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 08 July 2018, 12:32

This is England’s World Cup record since the last time they reached the semi-final of the competition in 1990:

  • 1994 - failed to qualify
  • 1998 - knocked out by Argentina on penalties in the round of 16, David Beckham sent off
  • 2002 - defeated by Brazil in the quarter-final, Ronaldinho embarrasses David Seaman
  • 2006 - knocked out by Portugal on penalties in the quarter-final, Wayne Rooney sent off
  • 2010 - knocked out by Germany, Frank Lampard denied a goal that was clearly over the line
  • 2014 - failed to make the knockout stages, Uruguay and Costa Rica advance through the group

It’s a catalogue of hope, disaster and finally despair as time after time the Three Lions have been unable to emulate neither their win in 1966, nor their ill-fated encounter with Germany in Turin under Bobby Robson.

Those who follow England have repeatedly promised themselves that they won’t get emotionally involved with the team in order that they avoid the upheaval and hurt associated with the perpetual disappointment that inevitably follows.

Yet on Saturday afternoon Gareth Southgate’s England strolled through their quarter-final with Sweden with no drama, no tears and no heartache, the lack of turmoil almost eerie for those who looked on. The burden and baggage on the backs of every squad had become heavier and heavier over the years, but the intelligent boss had managed to offload it in one fell swoop, allowing his players to stand tall.

The shedding of what seemed like a hoodoo once seemed impossible, however a penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia and an entirely professional performance versus Sweden have proved just what a magnificent job the Coach has pulled off. It has allowed the country to hope without the feeling of dread, to enjoy being in the final four teams in the World Cup knowing that it has been a simply brilliant ride no matter what happens next.

After Saturday’s victory, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford admitted that he wasn’t born when the side last reached the semi-final stage and neither were most of his team-mates. Indeed, in order to have a clear recollection of that event, you would have to be approaching 40 years old, meaning this was a unique experience for many that celebrated on England’s streets into the evening following the match with Sweden.

The phrase “it’s coming home” was used as a joke on social media at the beginning of the tournament but now even those outside England’s shores have begun to believe that this could actually happen. Before we were aware of the success that was to come, we laughed at the adverts screened before ITV’s World Cup matches, where a middle aged man was depicted with an England 2018 winners tattoo as the tournament started, the very notion ridiculous before a ball was kicked.

Now in the semi-finals, there is a very real chance that football could come home, but the wild hype and virulent celebration has – on the surface at least – failed to distract the players. Despite various attempts by the TV stations to involve Southgate and his squad in getting carried away, they remain professional and focused at all times, their answers almost robotic even after a win. Gabby Logan persists in her attempts at asking them if it’s coming home and with a wry smile they politely sidestep the question every single time.

This attitude and a refusal to get swept along with the tidal wave that’s roaring across England at the moment is just one reason why they have been so successful, an iron clad unit that has blocked out what is going on all around them. After all, these are professional players, not fans, and it is their job to remain calm until the job is done, even though they understand what it means for all the people watching back at home.

Such an approach has eluded England as they have strived for, yet failed in their attempts at success. However in a tournament where Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina have all been eliminated, it is now their turn of those teams to watch at home while a calm and business-like England do what’s necessary on the pitch.

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