After naming his squad for next month's European Championship, Gareth Southgate reflected on his first 18 months as England Under-21s head coach.
The former Middlesbrough boss took on his role with the Young Lions in September 2013, four years after his departure from the Riverside Stadium.
He had been in charge of the Teesside club from 2006 to 2009 after spending five years there as a player and was seen as one of the brightest young bosses in the country.
Southgate remains determined to use his experiences and coaching expertise to make a difference.
And he admits he takes a great deal of satisfaction from his current role, which also involves helping to oversee the whole England development team set-up.
“There’s always something to prove, but that isn’t why I took the role here,” he admitted at St. George’s Park shortly after selecting his 27-man provisional list for the Euros.
“I believe in the cause, I believe in young English players and I have a desire to put something down that starts to build for the future and the long term of English football.
“If you watch any of our junior teams play, it’s becoming quite apparent.
“Other countries are commending the retention and we also have some interesting individual talents within that.
“There’s no question that our players are technically as good as others, we have to push them to grow their tactical awareness and game-management.”
In the four-year break between his spell with Boro and the U21s role, Southgate made the most of his time.
He became a regular face on television through his media work with ITV and the former Crystal Palace and Aston Villa man also broadened his football knowledge and horizons by travelling across Europe, visiting top clubs to see how they work and train.
Southgate admits he’ll always be a student of the game, regardless of the role he is working in at any time.
“You just have to try and improve every day in what you’re doing and become the best you can be and constantly evolve,” he explained.
“I talk to senior managers and they continue to learn and want to be better and that’s the big thing you can control, your mindset and how you deal with it.
“Once you’re into coaching it’s an enormous commitment. I had a couple of years working with ITV while doing some other learning, which I found really helpful.
“It was what I needed, to take a step away and see the bigger picture, so I went to the matches at the Nou Camp and Madrid to see what 'excellent' looks like and what best practice looks like.
“I’d like to be considered and respected as a good coach, but what the pathway to that looks like, I’m not sure.
“My experiences at Middlesbrough told me that in coaching you can’t decide what your career path is going to be, there’s too many uncontrollables.”
For now though, Southgate admits he’s fully immersed in and enjoying his current job by working with some of England’s top young talent.
He signed a contract extension earlier this year, which will keep him in charge for the next U21s Euro campaign, which starts almost as soon as this year’s championship has concluded.
And as his side prepare to take centre-stage in the only major men’s tournament in Europe this summer, Southgate admits he wouldn’t want to swap jobs with anyone.
“I’m in a role that I really enjoy and that’s not so common in football,” he said.
“I genuinely don’t think about what the next thing is. I’m working for a cause that I really believe in, with a positive aim rather than an aim of trying to stay up, which changes the dynamic.
“People talk about pressure, but it’s different trying to push people to challenge and strive and go for something, than to try and survive in a League and keep an organisation together by its boot laces.”
With coach education now becoming one of the key objectives at St. George’s Park, Southgate sees first-hand how many promising young English coaches are emerging.
Many former players have also shown their interest in coaching and he’s keen to work with and help them along their pathway or offer advice.
“Part of the role here is working in coach education so we invite young coaches to join us with England,” he revealed.
“We haven’t been able to do that with first-team managers because their schedules are so busy.
“But what we’re hoping is that in four or five years, when the England manager’s job may come up, there is a pool of good coaches so people will say that there isn’t a dearth of English coaches.
“My own experience is not to rush through the badges, it’s about learning constantly and you’re going to find out if you want to do that.”
And as anyone who has seen the former defender out on the training pitch will know, there’s no doubt that Southgate is a fully signed-up member of the coaching club.
Southgate's England team take on Belarus in Barnsley on Thursday 11 June before they head out to Czech Republic for the Euros.
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