Jump directly to the content
'by far the best man'

Ian Wright: I met Gareth Southgate and was told he had more O Levels than I could count… he’s the brainy boss that England need

SunSport columnist Ian Wright believes that the former Middlesbrough boss is by far the best man for the job

GARETH SOUTHGATE would have been 16 when I first met him, just coming through from the youth team at Crystal Palace.

Boss Steve Coppell introduced him to me and my mate Andy Gray and said: “He’s got more O levels than you can count.”

 Gareth Southgate and Ian Wright have known each other since their Crystal Palace days and played for England together
News Group Newspapers Ltd
10
Gareth Southgate and Ian Wright have known each other since their Crystal Palace days and played for England together
 Southgate in his younger days coming through the youth ranks after getting a number of O level
Times Newspapers Ltd
10
Southgate in his younger days coming through the youth ranks after getting a number of O level

Andy said something like: “Yeah but O levels don’t help you on the f****ing pitch.”

Well, they didn’t hinder him either.

He’s still exactly like he was back then, very astute, knows exactly what he’s doing and looks you straight in the eye.

I’d left Palace by the time he made the first-team but he proved himself to be a very good player.

 Ian Wright first met Gareth Southgate during his stint with the Eagles
Getty Images - Getty
10
Ian Wright first met Gareth Southgate during his stint with the Eagles

I faced him many times and it was great to play in the same England team.

Coppell had very high hopes for Gareth and he did it all.


'NOT IMPOSSIBLE' England boss Gareth Southgate urges squad to dream about winning World Cup


I’m very nervous for him with England because I so want him to be a success. I know how hard he’ll work at trying to get it right.

It won’t be for a lack of effort from his point of view if England don’t succeed.

 Gareth Southgate signed a four-year contract with the Three Lions in 2016
Getty Images - Getty
10
Gareth Southgate signed a four-year contract with the Three Lions in 2016
 England beat Costa Rica 2-0 in their final World Cup warm-up match
Getty - Contributor
10
England beat Costa Rica 2-0 in their final World Cup warm-up match

In the past we’ve had managers who didn’t feel it as much as Gareth will if we fail.

He was a hardworking, give- everything player and he’s taken that into management. He was a quiet leader as a player too.

He was only about 22 when he got the Palace captaincy and he was a skipper who didn’t need to scream and shout.

He led by example and nobody took any liberties with him.

I’d call him a friend. He’s very sharp and he would take the p*** out of me if the chance was there.

You should know when to do it and when to leave it.

 Gareth Southgate led by example as a captain for Crystal Palace
PA:Empics Sport
10
Gareth Southgate led by example as a captain for Crystal Palace

And if you’re intelligent and sharp enough like him, you pick exactly the right time.

No matter what your personality is like, he will have a quip ready and he commands respect.

I remember when he got the Middlesbrough job people were questioning why he’d got it.

But Steve Gibson the owner saw it, just like Coppell did.

The mistake Steve made was sacking him when they were high up the Championship. I never understood that.

Gareth was under-rated as a player because of the centre-halves he had to compete with like Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand.

 Gareth Southgate was handed his first managerial role at Middlesbrough in 2006
Getty Images - Getty
10
Gareth Southgate was handed his first managerial role at Middlesbrough in 2006

But he could stand in that company and people wouldn’t need to ask why he was there.

I was gutted for him when he missed the penalty in the shootout in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany, especially as I felt I should have been in the team with him.

I was in the stadium at Wembley working for the BBC and could feel the tears welling up.

If the England fans had seen me warming up against Germany that would have livened them up and I would have got on — and may have got that decisive goal  then we wouldn’t have needed penalties.

I would have been the sixth  penalty-taker I reckon, if I’d been picked, and would have fancied it.

That would have spared Gareth all that heartache but that’s what he gets for Terry Venables not selecting me!

Dream Team World Cup - Sign up to win £100k

  • Enter for FREE
  • £50m budget and 20 transfers throughout the tournament
  • Play to win £100k top price and a share of £175k prizepot

SIGN UP FOR DREAM TEAM WORLD CUP NOW

I don’t think that penalty miss affected him though.

The players who had missed before like Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle at Italia 90 weren’t crushed by it.

It’s very easy for a player of  Gareth’s intelligence to deal with that situation because of the way he thinks.

He realises that’s the game and that’s what happens.

He’d have loved to have scored it because it would have been great for him and England and he  probably still thinks about it.

Now he is in the perfect position to be able to explain to players in the England dressing room about all the pressures and what’s required to deal with them.

 England will face Tunisia, Belgium and Panama in the group stages in Russia
AFP or licensors
10
England will face Tunisia, Belgium and Panama in the group stages in Russia

He dealt with it by making that pizza advert which took the mickey out of the miss and was no doubt well paid for it but why not?

You have to be able to smile and have a laugh about these things. It was a good way to defuse it.

If it was on social media now he’d probably get slaughtered for cashing in on the nation’s misery.

I don’t look at it like that, I’ve no problem with it.

He’s a worthy England manager.

He carries himself like an FA man and he is an FA man — and that’s not a criticism.

He speaks well and is very truthful and in touch with everything that’s going on.

 Gareth Southgate has urged his men to have high expectations at the World Cup
PA:Press Association
10
Gareth Southgate has urged his men to have high expectations at the World Cup

I look at him now and back to when he was 16 and could probably see him doing this job even back then.

We haven’t got a long line waiting to take the mantle up if Gareth wasn’t in the job but he is by far the best man for it.

He wasn’t like a Cheshire cat like Big Sam when he was appointed.

Sam was almost too excited.

Gareth weighed up his options, saw what he wanted to do and took it at a time that he felt was right for him.

Now he’s got it, he’s doing the best he can to be a success.

 Gareth Southgate is using a different approach to former Three Lions boss Sam Allardyce
REUTERS
10
Gareth Southgate is using a different approach to former Three Lions boss Sam Allardyce
Gareth Southgate talks Raheem Sterling and England performance after World Cup warm-up with Nigeria