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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.