LONDON (AP) — Five months after saying he lacked the experience to coach England, Gareth Southgate landed one of soccer’s toughest roles on Wednesday by showing he can handle the responsibility.
The 46-year-old Southgate pulled out of the running to succeed Roy Hodgson after England’s European Championship debacle, clearing the way for Sam Allardyce’s appointment in July.
But when Allardyce was forced out following one game in charge, Southgate had an unexpected chance to get a taste of coaching England for four games. Promoted from the under-21 team, Southgate passed his audition and secured a four-year contract.
“I think at that time (in July) there would have been a perception about someone being promoted internally through the organization,” Southgate said. “Having had the opportunity to prove myself over a small sample of games I have been able to show I can handle the role … and prove to people I was capable of preparing the team for some big matches.”
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Southgate said he believes he is qualified to fill a role previously occupied by veteran coaches Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson despite his only previous first-team managerial role at Middlesbrough ending in 2009 after three years.
“After the summer I have had time to reflect on the qualities I have got, the experiences I have got and how that would prepare me for this sort of a role,” Southgate said.
The former England defender pointed to tournament experience as a player and in charge of the under-21 team, which saw him work with much of the current senior squad.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the players over these past four games and I think there’s huge potential,” Southgate said of his unbeaten run as interim coach.
Southgate secured World Cup qualifying wins over Malta and Scotland, a draw against Slovenia, and a 2-2 draw against Spain in a friendly. He seemed at ease in the role and even showed some backbone by dropping captain Wayne Rooney in his second match as interim coach.
Southgate was the only person the English Football Association interviewed this time, with the governing body saying it looked into a “number of managers” before Allardyce was hired in July.
“The job was really to assess Gareth against that group of people we looked at before,” FA chief executive Martin Glenn said of the five-man panel which interviewed Southgate.
Glenn said Southgate displayed “great confidence, he really knows what he is talking about and he understands how to motivate players.”
“You can see, like all of us, he has still got things to learn,” Glenn said, “and we got a better idea about the ways we can put support around him to ensure he can be successful.”
England won the 1966 World Cup, but has only reached the semifinals of a tournament twice since then. The last time was at Euro ’96 when Southgate missed the decisive penalty in a shootout against Germany — the current team’s next opponent in March.
England hosts the world’s richest soccer league and has excessively high expectations for a national team with such a woeful record at recent major tournaments. With Hodgson in charge, England was eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup and then lost to tournament newcomer Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.
Once a job sought by the best coaches in world football, the England role has lost its appeal. No reign has been shorter or more embarrassing for the FA than Allardyce’s. He left the job after 67 days — and just one match — when his integrity was damaged by unguarded comments to undercover reporters about illegal transfer practices and potential public-speaking appearances.
Clean-cut, well-spoken and with no baggage, Southgate fits the bill for the FA in terms of image. He also knows the FA and what the national body wants and expects, having been coach of the under-21 team for three years and the governing body’s head of elite development before that.
He repaired some of the damage done to his coaching reputation from his time at Middlesbrough when he was with the under-21 team, leading it to a first title in 22 years at this year’s Toulon tournament. And he impressed during his two-month spell as interim coach of England’s senior team by implementing a brave style of play that saw the team play the ball out from the back as much as possible.
In his playing career, Southgate had spells at Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
Douglas reported from Manchester, England