Softly-spoken, measured, gentlemanly, be-suited in shirt, tie and waistcoat – the current England manager is a role-model of a very different kind.
Or is he?
Actually, he reminds me of many teachers – well prepared, meticulous in planning; considered and considerate; fulsome and generous in their praise for others. Like all good team managers (and like good head teachers too) he is the first to acclaim and appreciate not only ‘these young players’ but ‘the staff’ after each game.
Watching the World Cup in Russia this summer has coincided with a series of talks I do every summer at universities and teacher training centres around the country on promoting so-called ‘British’ values – something I believe do exist but are quite difficult to define in concrete and exemplary terms.
The government has defined ‘fundamental British values’ as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs– and though I’m not going to expand on those now, I do want to say how watching Gareth Southgate in the last few weeks has made me reflect on how this man has become a strong model of them.
Let’s take ‘democracy’first. Being a football manager (or a manager of any organisation) is not to hold a democratic position – but that’s not to say good managers cannot reflect democratic values. I think Gareth Southgate’s management of the England team shows exactly that. He has been widely lauded for the way he listens to the opinions of his staff and his players before making decisions.
He is also known to be a stickler for playing the game as it should be played – with due adherence not just to the rules, but to the spirit of the game – upholding the values of ‘the rule of law’ through sport – which is the metaphor that ‘sport’ is. Indeed, this is the reason ‘sport’ was invented in the first place – as ‘rule-governed play’.
He has also been praised for the sense of ‘freedom’ he has brought to the team, encouraging them to ‘write their own ‘individual’history’ and throw off the burden of 1966 and all that… Not only has he allowed this with his players, but he has demonstrated it in his own ‘individual’ management style, fearless in dispensing with the so-called ‘stars’ of the past, whoever they were.
He has included a greater ethnic diversity in the team, more than any previous manager, entirely on the basis of merit. In my view, that is the ultimate demonstration of ‘respect.’ That ‘respect’ has been reciprocated too – there has not been a whiff of dissension or gossiping from the players about Southgate. Compare that to previous squads.
Finally, last week when full-back Fabian Delph’s wife was about to give birth to their third child, he allowed the player to return home to be with her – a remarkable demonstration of ‘tolerance’ by Southgate in the midst of such an important tournament but also a fine demonstration of Delph’s own priorities and values.
Admittedly, I have stretched analogies a little for the purposes of the topicality of this article. But there is a serious point here. Gareth Southgate is showing himself as a role model to the nation by demonstrating very laudable and respectable values. Whether he intends it or not, he reminds me of a good teacher and he reminds me of the values I feel proud are associated with being ‘English’, let alone ‘British’.
Whether or not England win the World Cup, that is worth celebrating.