Southgate – Wembley sell-out shows England DO connect with fans

Gareth Southgate claims Wembley sell-out for Malta clash shows England DO connect with their fans… as Three Lions boss insists that is only a ‘good sign for the players’

  • England take on Malta in a Euro 2024 qualifying clash at Wembley on Friday 
  • Gareth Southgate’s side will be cheered on by a sell-out crowd in north London
  • Southgate’s loyalty to his players is an issue and a weakness – It’s All Kicking Off 

Gareth Southgate’s legacy will ultimately be measured by trophies.

That’s the golden barometer of success for any football manager — particularly one in charge of a squad who are the envy of rival national team coaches across the world. But should that be the only benchmark for success?

Wembley will be packed to the rafters on Friday for what is effectively a dead rubber. England’s opposition, Malta, are ranked 171st in the world. It hardly has the makings of a thriller. 

But there is something about this England team that has captured the public’s imagination in a way we have not seen for decades.

A nation once disaffected with its national team has fallen head over heels in love with it once more. Of course, the emerging sense that this England squad are on the cusp of greatness is a key factor at play here. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team, don’t they?

Gareth Southgate claimed England do connect with their fans ahead of their game with Malta

England have already qualified for Euro 2024 but will backed by a sell-out crowd at Wembley

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Southgate’s England are certainly winning. But what if England fail at Euro 2024 and the country’s trophy drought goes on? What then? Would that tarnish Southgate’s legacy? His take is intriguing. 

‘We knew when we took over there was this disconnect, a lack of confidence with the team, and football is about connection with supporters,’ he explained yesterday. ‘You want to create memories that bring people together. That has been important for us.

‘Of course, you could always come unstuck and that’s why you have to get the preparation for every game right and the mindset for every game at all age groups.

‘We’ve had a few up and down results in that period of general progress. But, yes, a packed out Wembley is something very special and that is a good sign for the players.’

Perhaps more than anything else, it is the culture of winning that Southgate has helped nurture throughout the FA that represents the very best of the 53-year-old’s reign.

‘Our junior teams are having success and that has begun to breed belief in our younger players that they can compete at an international stage,’ he added. ‘So you see less concern about who they may be playing when they go to junior tournaments now.

‘They have seen other age groups win and they are expecting to go there and do the same so they go with genuine belief into the big matches.’

Yet there is still criticism of Southgate’s reign from some quarters, from those who somehow believe he has underachieved. And that will linger unless England win the European Championship next summer.

Friday’s game against Malta will be Southgate’s 90th as manager of England. Only Sir Bobby Robson (95), Sir Alf Ramsey (113) and Sir Walter Winterbottom (139), have taken charge of more.

If, as expected, his side go beyond the group stages in Germany next summer, Southgate will bring up his century. 

That should be a cause for celebration — yet Southgate is fully aware of the sentiments from those who continue to believe he has been more of a hindrance than a help to the success of England’s current crop.

‘People will have opinions, I am probably tired of trying to fight that,’ he said. ‘It is what it is. I just let our results and performances speak for themselves.

‘You are never going to please everybody. So the best way as a football manager is to keep winning matches, frankly.

Under Southgate, a nation once disaffected with its national team has fallen back in love

The Three Lions have reached a World Cup semi-finals and a Euros final in Southgate’s tenure

‘There is only a World Cup final that we haven’t done. You understand what that means in the longer term, in terms of what you have learned, what you have taken from those experiences and the fact we have dealt with those challenges and that pressure, which can sometimes really inhibit people.

‘Frankly, a lot of people could not cope with that pressure so I feel pleased we have shown that we can do that.

‘I am sure there will have been a lot of doubts some years ago whether I was capable of doing that and, of course, there will be other doubts people will have and that will always be the same.

‘You will always have questions asked of you but as a person, and as a coach, you will always learn through every experience you have and every day will throw up a different challenge. You are learning all the time.’


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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