It was 26th June, 1996, and England were yet again pitted against the Germans in a terribly tense penalty shoot-out. I remember so well – not just because we lost – but also because my eldest son was born about ninety minutes after the final penalty was taken, and we rushed off to the hospital!
Gareth Southgate remembers that night well too, due to the fact that he found himself a member of the worst club in English football history – those who missed their penalty in a major competition and cost England the match.
Ever since he was appointed caretaker and then permanent manager of the England football team, I have taken so much more notice of him than ever before. It comes with the territory; but more than that, with every passing interview accompanying the slow but steady progress of an exceptionally young team, I have watched and listened with increasing respect for this young manager.
He always speaks in mature, measured tones and – during interviews – does not get drawn into answers that will not help anyone.
He doesn’t blame, he doesn’t criticise.
He rarely accepts credit – acknowledging that success is always all about the players… and when defeat comes, then it is his turn.
As manager, he accepts responsibility for the loss.
What I admire most of all about Gareth Southgate is his bold innovation and creativity. He has spoken much, during this World Cup, about the players “writing their own stories” and not being “defined by the past”. On the dreaded prospect of penalties, he has spoken of the players “owning the process” through diligent practise and not simply leaving it to chance on the night.
And so, when England magnificently won the penalty shoot out against Colombia this week, millions of people around the nation – and ex-pats all over the world – will have jumped for joy (or thumped their pouffes like I did!) and been pleasantly surprised by a team of very young players who held their nerve and secured a win. They – no doubt – also felt extremely pleased and proud of the manager who never got the chance to redeem his own penalty miss personally but has gone one better in bringing a whole team to victory.
He has instilled in his players a belief that, perhaps, hasn’t truly been there before since 1966. A belief that says…
They can play exciting and intelligent football and win.
They can even win on penalties if they have to – and who knows how far they can go now?
As a leadership lesson, this is priceless I think.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” we were told as children; and this is good, old-fashioned advice.
What is far better, however, is if at first you don’t succeed, help others to succeed with you… and in so doing, there is redemption multiplied.
The Southgate Redemption.