As I write this article the Euro Final between England and Italy hasn’t been played yet. As you read this, it may or may not have ‘come home’.
What I am more interested in is the two managers and how successful they have both been with their national teams. What makes them so great? Are they the best tacticians? Do they study football better than anyone else? I would hazard a guess and say no. So, what clues have they given us into their secret of being so successful?
I haven’t followed Roberto Mancini’s journey as much as Gareth Southgate’s, but I can come up with my own conclusions as to some reasons why he has taken a team that didn’t qualify for the last major tournament, to going on the country’s greatest ever non-losing streak.
The first one is that he has built a team based on something more than individuals. Italy always had a star player, and the team was based around them. Now, for the first time in their history, the Italian side is represented by more Italian clubs than ever, clubs that are not household names. The second thing is that all these players work extremely hard for each other.
Mancini has instilled a work ethic like no other – it seems like it is based around their love of defending. When they lose the ball, they work even harder to get it back. I was very grateful to witness this first-hand when Northern Ireland played Italy in Turin for a World Cup qualifier last year. Their skill level and the way they moved the ball was so impressive, but what stood out for me even more, was their work-rate and desire to win every ball. It was a joy to witness, even if they were the opposition.
Unbelievable passion is another thing that the Italians have brought, they always do, but this time it’s a more controlled passion. Look back and watch them singing the national anthem on the opening game, it will give you goosebumps. Then watch the performance they put in. They had the passion but were able to control it and transfer it into a brilliant performance.
Now for the England manager, Gareth Southgate. I have been a fan of Southgate for a while and not just for the success he has brought to his team, but more so from listening and reading about him. He comes across as a very intelligent man, who is open, honest and is willing to leave himself vulnerable. The England job has always been a poisoned chalice. The English media are famous for piling the pressure on their team and the whole country seems to jump on the bandwagon with them.
During the last World Cup, Gareth Southgate took a different approach with media. Rather than staying silent and ignoring them, he invited them to have a darts competition with the players at the hotel. Instead of rejecting them, he welcomed them with open arms and wanted them to see what he and his team were building. He is very humble and when being interviewed, he always talks about his backroom staff. The one word that he consistently uses is ‘trust’.
If you get a chance, listen to his interview on the High Performance podcast where he talks about how he selected his number two, Steve Holland. It started with a conversation about youth football and Holland’s passion for how the English system could work.
It struck a chord with Southgate, and when he got the England job he went with his gut instinct and asked Holland to join him as his number two. Since then, the level of trust he has placed on Holland seems to be very high. On top of this, Southgate makes it clear that he is the decision maker. He takes guidance and council from his staff but makes those decisions and takes full responsibility.
He also realises that he is not just working with footballers but people in a highly pressurised environment.
So how do you control this pressure? Well, you find out how the best do it in other areas. He spent time with the seven-times world champions Mercedes F1 team and their leader Totto Wolf. Again, this shows you the level of intelligence and willingness to learn and improve, not only his team, but himself.
Southgate knows that if he can learn something from other environments and adapt it to his own, then he has a winning formula. On top of this, he wrote a letter to the whole country. A brilliant, honest and humble read.
So, to whichever team won, congratulations. You both have two very special people as your leaders.