Gareth Southgate has England one step away from the European Championship final

Credit: SPORTSPHOTO LTD/IMAGO
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As Gareth Southgate attempts to plot a route past Denmark to the final of the European Championships, it is instructive of his personal journey to rewind 10 years to the summer in which he posted an appeal on his personal Twitter account for any Danish speakers to help out with a few key phrases.

He was quickly furnished with translations for bacon, beer and penalties, plus a few suggestions that would have been “likely to get me a smack in the chops” during the 2011 under-21 European Championships that were held in Denmark. But Southgate seemed pretty happy with his responses and cheerily signed off “cheers tweeps!”

Southgate had travelled to Denmark in his role as the Football Association’s head of elite development and, other than attending a Q&A with Morten Olsen, the senior national team coach at the time, he watched the Danish Under-21 side and picked out a certain Christian Eriksen and Nicolai Boilsen, who is part of this year’s European Championships squad, as players to watch.

England, with a team managed by Stuart Pearce that included Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson, failed to win any of their group games and did not qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.

Southgate’s assessment, again on Twitter, was: “Not (the) tournament outcome hoped for in Denmark, but also about player experience and some will benefit when they make seniors.”

Had assumed R.Mancini would travel back with team last night- til I got on Villarreal train…

— Gareth Southgate (@GarethSouthgate) November 3, 2011

One could certainly conclude that Walker and Henderson, and later on the likes of Harry Kane, Luke Shaw and John Stones, are all benefiting from their early experiences, just as Southgate is richer for his journey through the age groups of international football, much of which he used to document on social media.

Journeys were a theme of Southgate’s early work at the FA and, in just over a month during the summer of 2011, he visited Wembley to watch the seniors, while also working for ITV as a pundit, Geneva for England’s Under-19s, Walsall for a kids roadshow, Denmark, Reading for his work on the Pro Licence and the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, where he documented seeing a juggling unicyclist performing at a set of traffic lights. “Marvellous” read Southgate’s online review.

In terms of putting in the hours and miles, Southgate raced through airports to catch connecting flights, sat through too many disappointments to mention and watched some of the stars of the England team who have now reached successive major tournament semi-finals under him grow through the international age groups.

Tweeting the England Under-19 team he was about to watch in September 2011, Southgate was forced to correct himself by hastily sending out a follow-up message that read: “Apologies (I) think I left Harry Kane of (sic) that starting XI”. It is not a mistake he is likely to make these days.

It is not hard then to fathom why Southgate was in a better position than anybody else in the entire country to judge that it was time to keep faith in Kane when some critics were losing theirs during the group games of this European Championships, during which he did not score.

“I suppose you see all of these lads when you work with them at 19, 20, 21, a large part of their character is formed,” said Southgate. “But it is brilliant to see how they continue to progress and they become fathers, they become experienced players, they go through this journey of life.”

Had assumed R.Mancini would travel back with team last night- til I got on Villarreal train…

— Gareth Southgate (@GarethSouthgate) November 3, 2011

Referring to his time as manager of the Under-21s, Southgate added: “Our first game, the two full-backs were (John) Stones and (Luke) Shaw, Harry Kane was on the bench, Jesse Lingard, Eric Dier. So those relationships have been forming over a long, long period of time.”

The journeys of Southgate and Kane are leading them towards England’s first major tournament final appearance since 1966, when they could bump into another man the England manager crossed paths with on his Twitter travels 10 years ago.

Combining his FA role with his job as an ITV pundit, Southgate helped to cover a Champions League tie between Villarreal and Manchester City in Spain, when he spotted somebody he recognised on the train at the start of his trip back to England.

In a message that he later reposted with a picture, Southgate said: “Had assumed R.Mancini would travel back with (his) team last night – til (sic) I got on Villarreal train…”

Now manager of the Italian national team, Mancini could well be lying in wait for England in the final at Wembley. It’s been quite a 10 years since Southgate also tweeted: “For those keeping the faith Denmark v England itv1 7pm.”

Nobody needs reminding of the date and time of England’s game against Denmark this summer