England manager Gareth Southgate has spoken of how much respect Venables (pictured) had when he was in the role
Credit: Russell Cheyne
It was a table outside Motcombs, a bustling restaurant and bar in Belgravia, that became a de facto office of Terry Venables when he was managing England. Just a few streets down from Harrods, Venables would entertain leading club managers and generally quiz them and talk football.
It was during one such lunch with Alan Smith, the former Crystal Palace manager, that Venables began talking about Gareth Southgate. The 23 year-old Southgate had just captained Palace to the 1993-94 second-tier title and was already very much on Venables’s radar.
“We’d probably meet up about three times a year, sit outside, and the taxi drivers would beep if they saw Terry,” says Smith. “He’s a flamboyant character – jocular, charismatic and very funny – but there is a lot more than that. He was way ahead of his time as a coach and, once it came to football, really serious. He always liked Gareth and saw a lot more in him than many others. He thought Gareth was good enough to play for any of the big clubs and had a big impact on him.”
Southgate has, indeed, since cited Venables as a key mentor and, although it would be hard to imagine the present England manager holding court over a glass of wine at Motcombs in quite the same way, far more substantial similarities are striking. Have the England players ever looked so happy and united in the 25 years since? And has there been another manager quite so in tune with the personality of his dressing room?
Venables consoles Southgate after his penalty miss in the Euro 96 semi-final
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Venables was always adamant you had to work with players as individuals and adapt according to their traits. He often preferred the word “teacher” to “coach” or “manager” and would liken his own desired impact to the best lifelong influences that people experience in the classroom. In that, the testimony of his players remains overwhelming.
Paul Gascoigne: “He was the best I worked with. Everybody loved him.”
Darren Anderton: “Terry was a people person and tactically the best.”
David Seaman: “Terry got the fans loving the team – he made you proud.”
Teddy Sheringham: “He made you relaxed and perform to the best of your abilities.”
Paul Ince: “Everybody wanted to win for El Tel – that’s the sign of a great manager.”
Jamie Redknapp: “He treated us like adults – you wanted to make sure you paid him back.”
Smith stresses that you seldom ever hear a former professional saying anything critical of Venables, and he also describes Southgate as a “players’ man” in how he places responsibility on young people. In that, he believes there is a significance in how Venables and Southgate, as well as Sir Bobby Robson before, arrived with the experience, understanding and kudos of previously also playing for England.
“Terry was on the players’ side – let them have their say and he believed in the strength of the dressing room,” he says. “He wasn’t dictatorial. It was almost like a club atmosphere. Gareth also always talks about treating people individually and putting the onus on them. I think at international level you have to let players have their head. There are a lot of strong characters.”
As England also now prepare to face Scotland in their second match of the European Championship, other parallels range from selection headaches over leading players to how they have handled debates about the extent to which their squad should be judged as role models beyond just football. The various issues might be completely separate but, at every turn, a shared empathy for their players is obvious.
On the pitch, Venables famously kept faith in Alan Shearer before Euro ’96 despite a rare goal drought, and even told him three months before the first match against Switzerland that he would be playing. Southgate was similarly certain about Raheem Sterling starting Sunday’s match against Croatia following a dip in form. Both decisions were vindicated with a goal.
Venables proved particularly adept at dealing with the long periods of tournament downtime. Redknapp enjoyed the environment so much that he stayed on even after breaking his ankle, and the specific handling of Gascoigne was clearly also masterful.
Venables was a popular manager among his squad
Credit: Russell Cheyne
“I think Terry knew he shouldn’t be restrained in a hotel for six to eight weeks,” says Anderton. “Gazza was a massive ball of energy. Terry gave him a bit of freedom – he’d say to Dave Seaman, ‘Go and take him out fishing’. I think we’d sometimes go and train but not even train, just to get out of the hotel. I think he was suited to international management and trying to get players to relieve that boredom of being in a hotel.”
Venables would barely raise his voice to the players, but would speak to them individually, even during training matches to let them know his expectations. It was this quiet authority that especially struck Southgate, whose afternoons at the team’s hotel training base of Burnham Beeches would be spent playing the card game hearts over a scone with Stuart Pearce, Tony Adams and Sheringham.
The absence of clotted cream was one rule that Venables did enforce. “One of the most important things I’ve said to everyone – not just the players, but the support team behind them – is that calm leadership is one of the most important things you can provide in this environment,” says Southgate.
“Terry had a good balance of enjoyment, and knew the moments to have fun and relax, but when we worked he was spot on. He was by no means a disciplinarian, but no one stepped out of line because there was such a respect for him.”