Gareth Southgate’s New England: Tactics, management and pressure

With a World Cup year just around the corner, we sat down with England manager Gareth Southgate to discuss his tactics, man management style, and how management has changed since his playing days.

Southgate, whose England side are in Group G along with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama at the World Cup, also talked about the pressure on players and the importance of mental strength.

Here’s everything the England boss had to say in his interview ‘Gareth Southgate: A New England’, which will be airing on Sky Sports News on Christmas Eve…

On formations…

“With the senior team we’re a bit more flexible. With our junior teams we prefer a form of 4-3-3 and that can be different combinations in midfield, but with the seniors we’re less prescriptive because we want to get our best players on the field. So, it’s about what suits the profile of your players, what suits the opposition. We’re more in the process of winning than our development teams and therefore we have to make the best of the attributes of the players we’ve got.

“Unless you’re at a club long enough that can develop a philosophy of playing and recruiting players that fit that way of playing, then you have got to be adaptable.

“In my experience, football goes in cycles. You can have variations of 4-4-2. You could argue that what you used to call 4-4-2 is 4-2-3-1 because in a 4-4-2 one of your forwards was a player who dropped off the front and linked as more of a No 10, so I think you can be bogged down by formations as they are written down.

“The reality is that in possession, the teams are very fluid, full-backs push on and wingers come off the line, centre forwards split, so there’s wild variation between what you write down at the start of the game and whether the team ever looks like that during the game.

“We played a back three in Euro 96 in some of the games. Bobby Robson played it in 1990. It’s not just this generation of players that can do it. If you go back through history, players have been more adaptable than people have given them credit forward.

“Young defenders are encouraged to play with the ball now and that means whether it’s a back three or four, we’re more than capable of playing it.”

The best teams can play longer or have a threat behind or play through or around. They adapt. Adaptability in the modern game is critical.

Gareth Southgate

On possession:

“In most games we are dominating the ball. There are exceptions, such as against Spain and Brazil, where the opposition have had more of the ball, but there aren’t many teams who dominate the ball against us. But there are days where you have to accept maybe the opposition are a little bit stronger in possession and you might have to approach the game slightly differently. As a general principle, it’s definitely our desire to have more of the ball than the opposition.”

On beating the press:

“It depends on the individual abilities of your players. I see teams go to Liverpool, who press really well, and is it a good decision to play from the back for the first five minutes of that game and invite the press knowing Liverpool are really strong?

There are two schools of thought; one would be you play through that press whatever and the other would be well maybe there’s a bit of space to play over it. You have to allow players to make good decisions. Good decisions are not necessarily playing it short every time you get the ball. The best teams can play longer or have a threat behind or play through or around. They adapt. Adaptability in the modern game is critical.

“Always as a coach you have to be thinking not to flood the players with information. You have to think what’s key for the player, for that team and how do we deliver it in a way that it might stick and have an effect.”

On man management:

“It’s important to recognise every player is different in their own characteristics, personality and what they respond to. I like to get to know the players personally because then you have a better idea of what motivates them, what interests them, what excites them, but equally different moments call for different approaches.

“If you only have one way of working with players then it’s predictable and you might not get the best out of everybody. That might not happen anyway, by the way, but you have to be able to flex your approach. In the modern world, people don’t just do what the boss says because he says it and because he is the boss. They respect the authority but then you’ve got to get people to buy into what you are trying to do.”

On psychology:

“Mental strength, resilience is key to success at the highest level of every top sport. If you look at those at the top, it’s probably the distinguishing feature, because technically, you might get one or two technically exceptional players, but generally there is little to separate them. Physically, everyone is pretty fit, but the psychological area, in the biggest matches against the biggest teams under pressure, is where the best are able to stand up and perform. It’s definitely key.

“Is it more pressure than before? I’m not sure. The pressure is what you put on yourself. There are more external factors, more opinion, more social media, more instantaneous response to what happens on the pitch but the pressure is how you react to that and the pressure you put on yourself, but there is certainly more spotlight on what the modern player does and more analysis than in the past.

“When I was a very young player I worked under managers who threw things. I’m not sure that has an effect now. As a younger player it had quite an impact on me but as an older player I’d have just thought ‘you’re an idiot, what are you doing?’ What’s needed to get a reaction from the team? At times, it might be to go in firm, other times to be calm and have a clear picture of what’s needed. There are only so many times in a season you can get a reaction by being aggressive, but every coach is different.

“You have to be true to yourself because the players will smell it if it’s not a natural reaction from you. There’s a lot of stress around a game for players and as a coach you don’t want to be adding to that stress. You have to be very clear in your thinking and give clear messages to the players and half-time is such a small window, so you have to get that spot on.”

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