Not long after England’s glorious semi-final at the 2018 World Cup, Gareth Southgate met Neil Warnock over dinner.
Despite the Three Lions agonizingly losing to Croatia in the Round of 16, performances in Russia that summer had lifted the country’s spirits.
Millions of fans had fallen back in love with the national team after being burned by Roy Hodgson’s debacles at the previous two tournaments.
But Southgate was soon reminded, not too subtly, of how big a gamble the FA had taken in appointing him given his relative Prem’s inexperience.
And trust the outspoken ex-Sheffield United and Middlesbrough boss doesn’t sugarcoat the feeling of a skeptical public.
Southgate recalls: “When I took the job I knew people would have feared the worst.
“Really? What has he done? Relegated Middlesbrough. Did something with the Under-21s.
“Some shrugged their shoulders. Well, he knows the young players. We’ve tried everything else, we might as well try this damn thing.
“If you want to have an open mind on things, I always find Neil Warnock never disappoints.
“I saw him at dinner to Russia in 2018 and he said, ‘Son, you did great. But I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be a disaster’.
FREE BETS AND SIGN UP OFFERS – THE BEST OFFERS FOR NEW CUSTOMERS
“By the way, I don’t think he was alone . . . ”
It’s an anecdote that underscores Southgate’s modesty.
Whatever happens in Qatar next month – and some may feel the same trepidation at the recent results as they did four years ago – Southgate will go down in history as one of England’s greatest managers.
And how much Southgate appreciates the prestigious position was shown on Monday evening in London.
The 52-year-old received a special Legends of Football honor on behalf of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy – with retired Lionesses star Ellen White also receiving the award.
David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche, Teddy Sheringham, David Seaman and Stuart Pearce were among those who attended the hotel meeting at Grosvenor House.
It was past 11pm when Southgate finally took the stage after they agreed to help raise funds for charity.
He even auctioned his Hublot watch from the last World Cup for £15,000.
And then, in an eloquent, emotional speech – in which he referred to English writer Rudyard Kipling – he explained why governing England is “the greatest privilege”.
Southgate spoke of “running home from school” to see Bryan Robson score after 27 seconds against France at the 1982 World Cup.
The night he stayed up late to watch Gary Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland at Mexico 1986.
How he jumped for joy when David Platt scored that volley against Belgium in 1990.
Then there was the pride he felt when, aged 25, he won his first of 57 caps in England as a substitute against Portugal at Wembley in December 1995.
How humbled he was “to stand there as one of 11 representatives out of 55 million and belt out the national anthem.”
My way or the highway
Southgate – who will guide England to more than one World Cup along with Walter Winterbottom, Alf Ramsey, Bobby Robson and Sven-Goran Eriksson – plans to do it his way, regardless of outside noise.
He said: “It is difficult to do extraordinary things.
“This is a job where every decision and choice is questioned, debated and ridiculed. That’s just my postman, by the way!
“But I have to be strong enough to withstand the appeal of the population.
“And to do what I think gives the best chance of winning. This doubt, this noise that surrounds us, is because people care. They only want to win.
“I get that. If nobody cared or commented on it, it wouldn’t be the incredible challenge it is.”
Southgate explained what it’s like to be England manager.
He told the audience, “If the story seems to be a mix of emotions, successes and failures, that’s because it was.
“For every amazing night you get on the air, there’s that heartbreaking feeling the morning after a loss.
“Those moments when you picked yourself off the screen.”
Southgate then quoted Kipling’s poem If. . .
“If you can force your heart and your nerves and your tendons to take their turn long after they’ve gone, and so hold on when there’s nothing in you but the will to say to them, ‘Hold through”. . . ”
To donate to the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Charity go to nordoff-robbins.org.uk
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6368823/gareth-southgate-england-decisions-postman-world-cup/ Gareth Southgate reveals even the postman is questioning his decisions as England boss after World Cup horror run