THEY were the sort of words one might expect from Jose Mourinho on the eve of an epic game: Confident, determined and optimistic.
Gareth Southgate may not have quite the charisma and pomp of Mourinho, but – in his own calm, measured way – the England manager oozed confidence ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals match against France.
Southgate told us he had already picked his team for the world champions on Monday – and is expected to remain unchanged compared to the side that have ruthlessly eliminated Senegal in the last 16.
He insisted his side had improved significantly since the last World Cup.
He urged his men to “stand up” and “nail” this contraption, insisting they “are not ready to go home.”
And after his own decision-making was widely questioned when England missed the lead against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-final and against Italy in last year’s EURO final, he also sounded full of confidence in his own qualities.
Southgate is England’s Special One.
It is an indisputable fact that he has been the Three Lions’ most successful manager in over half a century.
Well, his words – if not his style – smack of old Mourinho about them.
When asked if he had decided on his lineup, there was no indication he might switch to a five-man defense – and it would be an exceptional curveball to move away from his 4-3-3 now would.
Southgate said: “We made our decision on Monday. We had already watched all the France games, we had already reviewed our game against Senegal.
“So we were definitely on the right track – because that’s what you have to deliver all week.
“I know people think I prefer a certain system, but if anything my preference has always been 4-3-3, I just don’t think it’s always been appropriate to get the best out of the team.
“The task is not just to have a philosophy, the task is to win football games. You can have a philosophy – but when you go home at the start of the tournament, the philosophy doesn’t really wash away.”
Spain and Germany have stuck rigidly to an idealistic version of possession football and are now home to do their Christmas shopping.
Southgate’s England has always been flexible and pragmatic. Prior to the quarter-finals, no team had scored more goals or had more clean sheets in this World Cup.
And Southgate is confident his mix of wise old men and fearless youngsters is capable of playing one of the greatest games of their lives against Kylian Mbappe and company at Al Bayt Stadium.
He said: “We have individual players with big match experience and I’m not scared of the youngsters because they will just go ahead and play.
“In big games, big players come up and they can make the difference. That’s what we did in this tournament.
“These nights you need men who stand up and take the challenge. We have to prove that to people.
“If you asked me four years ago if we’re ready, I’m not sure.
“Now I feel different – and that’s because we have evidence over a long period of time.
“I have faith in the players, we’re in a good position.
“So when France has these moments that it’s bound to have – and we’re going to have similar moments – we have to be steadfast and continue to be brave.”
In terms of his own skills and experience, Southgate is a man comfortable in his own skin.
So comfortable that he won’t attempt to give a pre-game speech with a Churchillian team – in fact, he won’t be giving a speech in the dressing room.
Southgate added: “By then my job is done so I’ll leave it to Harry Kane and the players.
“When I was a player, managers would often talk before kick-off and I would think, ‘I’m ready, now you can fuck me up!’
“If we don’t win, I know where the buck stops. But that’s okay, I’m the manager, I have to take responsibility.
“I feel good about my decision making and my energy – my excitement for the game.
“I would be an idiot if I hadn’t learned in five years to referee some of the biggest games in world football and the most famous players in Europe.
“And when you have the experience of having one of the most respected jobs in the country, you learn a lot.”
On the prospect of this being the last game he officiates at a World Cup, Southgate said: “It’s not the stage where we’re ready to go home.
“And it’s not at the point where we even think about going home.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6884146/gareth-southgate-jose-mourinho-england-france-world-cup/ Upbeat and determined Gareth Southgate transforms into Jose Mourinho – he’s England’s Special One