Gareth Southgate tells Peter Glynn that he wants young English players to have the freedom to express themselves on the world stage.


Gareth Southgate is determined to help England's players to express themselves on the international stage, after admitting there were periods of his playing career when he felt inhibited to perform at the highest level.

The former Three Lions' defender, who played 57 times for his country, can also recall spells when he played with "absolute freedom" and is clear of which approach he wants his new charges to adopt.

“I know as a player that at times I was a bit inhibited in the way I played – I didn't play with that absolute freedom," he explained.

"There were moments in my career where I did, and I know which of the two I preferred the most and which of the two mindsets got the best out of me and the teams I played in. So, I want to create that environment for players."

As a player Southgate captained Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough and represented England at three major tournaments – suffering heartache in the semi-final of Euro 96. On retiring as a player he was announced Boro manager at the age of 35 and had three years in charge of England's U21s before taking the senior job.

The Three Lions head coach believes such a wide variety of playing and coaching experiences – both good and bad - has liberated him to adopt an exciting approach with his current charges. 

Manager Gareth Southgate talks to Mason Mount during training
Gareth Southgate uses individual informal discussion with players in order to strengthen relationships.
I don't think there is a player, an artist, or actor, who doesn't have a little bit of doubt in their mind - so as the coach you have to constantly provide reassurance 

“I have been involved in successful teams and I have been involved in plenty of things that have gone wrong.

“So, I think I have a good understanding of what the end needs to look like for top players. I know what is required of teams in order for them to win: the level of detail, the level of professionalism and the mentality,” he explains.

“But also because I have learned from things that have gone wrong and had to pick myself up [many times] from being a very young player, right through to being a senior player and a coach.

“Because of those failures, I feel it gives you the freedom of being able to say ‘how might we be the best possible team’ and not be afraid of what goes wrong - because whatever goes wrong we can deal with, as I have lived through it.

“I think that gives me freedom to allow the players to express themselves and to challenge them to be the best they might be.”

Southgate believes that one of the major stumbling blocks when asking players to play with freedom is psychological. An issue he believes can begin to be solved through planning and organisation.

"There are lots of barriers for players which inhibit their performance - most of them psychological - so you have to try and make them overcome that and try and limit the interference in their performance.

"A lot of that will stem from doing the basics well: making sure they are well prepared, understand their role and are clear about what is expected of them.

"It is a great challenge for every coach to have that high level of communication with a squad and to really feel how everybody is.

"You have to understand that for any player, during any season, they are going to go through things in their lives and through their playing experiences which will affect how they might be thinking.

"So, the closer we are to understanding that and understanding our players the more able we are to help them."

If you are asking a player to play with freedom and things go wrong you can’t criticise them for doing the things you asked them to 
Gareth Southgate at St. George's Park
Gareth Southgate oversees an England coaching session during World Cup 2018 in Russia.
What we say is important, but our actions speak loudly at times; communication and body language on the side of the pitch is so important 

The 46 year-old believes his new squad are beginning to show signs of playing with freedom, but is aware of the importance of practising what he preaches.

"It is very easy for a coach to talk about playing with freedom, but it is much harder for a player to step across the white line and do it.

"I don't think there is a player, an artist, or actor, who doesn't have a little bit of doubt in their mind - so as the coach you have to constantly provide reassurance.

"If you are asking a player to play with freedom and things go wrong you can’t criticise them for doing the things you asked them to.

"What we say is important, but our actions speak loudly at times; communication and body language on the side of the pitch is so important.

"Players look for clues - they’re working out if you genuinely believe what you say and whether you will stick to the message when under pressure at critical moments."


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