MANAGER Gareth Southgate put himself through a 4am rerun of England’s World Cup defeat by Croatia as he begins to plan for Euro 2020, when football really will come home to Wembley.
The Three Lions’ manager has led with passion, pride and personality throughout England’s revelatory run to the final four, but admits it has been difficult to bounce back from Wednesday’s extra-time defeat in Moscow.
Southgate has dealt with similar feelings before, crushed by his penalty miss in the semi-final of Euro ’96, and although he has thicker skin these days the pain of defeat lingers.
“We were 20 minutes from a World Cup final...that is going to live with me forever, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“I’m conscious I’ve got to raise everybody, but I’m up watching the game at four o’clock on Friday morning. I’m old enough now that I don’t have to beat myself up unnecessarily.
“I think when I was a player I had a very simplistic mindset: win and I was good, lose and I was an idiot.
“There was nothing in between and bizarrely I felt the need to punish myself for that. I’m a lot more rational now. I can see what we have achieved.
“Your responsibilities lay elsewhere as a manager. It’s different [from being a player], but no less painful, for sure.
“I’ve also got to get everyone else through the next few days.”
Southgate has one last assignment before signing off in Russia, negotiating today’s third-place play-off against a Belgium side who were 1-0 winners when the sides met in Kaliningrad during the group phase.
He then plans to work at least one day at St George’s Park next week, beginning to put plans in place for September’s international break before indulging a hard-earned holiday.
This level of diligence has been a big part of England’s success over the past month and the manager makes no bones about what is the next goal. The European Championship in two years will be staged in 12 different cities across the continent. But the climax will come at Wembley – which won the rights to stage the semi-finals and final, as well as group games and a last-16 tie.
Southgate’s job is make sure England are still involved when London assumes hosting duties and create an ever more memorable summer than this one.
“We almost have a home tournament, it’s going to be brilliant,” he said.
“What the players are going to experience is close to what we experienced in 1996 and in ’66. That’s incredible for everybody. We saw what the Olympics was like.
“We’ll have the players inspired by what’s happened over the last few weeks.
“We did talk to them about that before, but I think it was hard for them to really get it.
“Most of them weren’t born in 1990 and they were too young for ’96.
“So they haven’t felt what the nation really getting excited about the team feels like. They’ve seen that now.”
Southgate will celebrate, commiserate and share a drink with players and staff tonight regardless of the result against Belgium.
Everyone will go their separate ways after flying back to Birmingham Airport, the Football Association having decided against a parade, and the manager acknowledged it represented the last stand for this most unified of squads.
“That group of people will never be together again. That’s the reality,” he said.
“Players, staff...things always change for whatever reasons. That’s why we’ve got to enjoy it when we go back to the hotel. You’ve got to enjoy those moments.
“Ox (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) sadly is going to be out for a while, but there’s Adam Lallana and there are others. We never close our mind to people.
“There are some younger ones we’re excited about who could get Premier League football this year and should start to push, but they’ve got it all to do now. It should be harder to get into the group than it has been this time.”
World Cup quartet help to underscore Huddersfield Town’s climb: Page 2.
National pride is driving both World Cup finalists: Page 3.