Gareth Southgate has hinted he could quit as England manager, saying he felt “conflicted” over whether to stay in light of the various lows of the past 18 months.
Southgate remains physically and mentally shattered by his side’s World Cup quarter-final loss to France on Saturday night, although he is proud of the way they played.
He was determined to enjoy the tournament in Qatar, saying so on several occasions, which fueled the belief that he could represent his last dance with England, even though he is under contract with the Football Association until December 2024.
Southgate enjoyed the final, but the same cannot be said for some of their other experiences of late, starting with the fallout from the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in the European Championship final in the summer of last year.
There has long been the feeling that an element of the fan base was ready to burst against him in the event of further defeats and that happened during the disappointing Nations League campaign – the nadir coming during the setback 4-0 at home to Hungary at Molineux in June. Southgate was shocked by the vitriol of the crowd that night.
“I have found large parts of the last 18 months difficult,” Southgate said. “For all the things I’ve loved for the past few weeks, I’ve always…how things have been for 18 months. What was said and what was written. The night with the wolves. There are a lot of things in my head that are really conflicting right now.
“What I want to make sure, if it’s the right thing to do, is that I definitely have the energy to do it. I don’t want to spend four or five months thinking, “I made the wrong call. It’s too important for everyone to be wrong.
Clearly the decision will be Southgate alone as the FA don’t want to lose him. The governing body were delighted with the way he has transformed the mood around the team since taking over shortly after the disastrous Euro 2016 campaign when the team were knocked out by the Iceland. England travels in expectation rather than in hope these days. The players, meanwhile, support him as well.
It’s unclear when Southgate will decide, but he indicated he needed at least a few days to clear his head before even thinking about it.
“When I went through the last few tournaments, my emotions were hard to really reflect properly in the weeks that followed,” he said. “It took so much energy from you and you have so many things going through your mind.
“I want to make the right decision anyway because it has to be the right decision to go back or the right one not to go back, and I don’t think now is the time to make a decision like that. The next few days either, really.
Southgate was told he might not have too much time to come to a conclusion. “After every tournament I sat down with everyone at the FA and discussed things in a logical way and I think that’s the right process to go through again,” he replied.
After three tournaments and the relentless demands and stress of the role, it’s easy to wonder if Southgate still needs it, if he can reset for Euro 2024 in Germany. While in Qatar, he had to tighten security at his home after photographs were published. This is one of the many examples of things he could do without.
Southgate was asked how long it would take to get this tournament out of their system. “I don’t think I got over the last [Euro 2020],” he said. “But it feels a bit different because when we think about what we did, I don’t know what more we could have done or given. I think we gave a very good performance against a top team [France]. It was an important psychological step for these players.
“I was involved in nights where we played against the top teams and were on the back foot for the majority of the game and were outplayed. I know France are a bit more counter-attacking so it’s a bit different from a possession team that can push you back. We wanted to be bold in the tournament and I think we went with them.
“We said we wanted to be competitive to the end with England and we are, I believe, in that top tier… the last three tournaments we have restored our credibility. The rest of the world sees us as a good side. But we are here to win and we did not win.
When Southgate extended his contract in November last year, he spoke of the depth of player talent available to him, how he had “done a lot of the work culturally” to turn them into suitors and his desire to make it happen. “To step away at a time when we still think the next few years can be very exciting… that would have been tough to live with,” he said.
Does Southgate still remember that feeling, or have things changed irrevocably?