Gareth Southgate left a positive impression with every team and manager he played for

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As he prepares for the biggest game of his coaching career, four of Gareth Southgate’s former managers for club and country reveal why he was always destined to lead.

Alan Smith – Crystal Palace, 1993-95

I made him captain when I took over at Palace. He was only 22 but he had proved himself in a tough dressing room. 

He has spoken about it being like a ‘bear pit’ when he started being around the first team and honestly it was. There was Andy Gray, Ian Wright – that was a tough school. They were all from south London; they had no etiquette! And it made you fight for everything. 

But there had already been good tests for him because he had been youth team captain at 16 when I was coach and then he was reserve team captain at 18 when I was coach.

I always thought he carried himself well. I couldn’t quite define why that was but he typified what I wanted the team to be about. There was also a confidence that he gave me that he could pass on the messages.

Gareth brought a freshness to us and we needed to change the culture at the club. I wanted to do something a bit different because it was going to be my only chance as manager. It was in the days when diets weren’t good, there was heavy drinking and it needed something that was fresh and he had that enthusiasm to help change things and was willing to do so.

Gareth could be awkward and there was nothing wrong with that. He knew his mind. People think he’s a ‘goody-goody’ but if he didn’t like the position he was playing in or didn’t agree with something I said he would say so. It would be quite eloquent but he would say it. 

There was a sense of independence about him and a bit of hardness, also, and I liked that. Gareth was always a leader and I don’t see him any different today than I did then. 

Brian Little – Aston Villa, 1994-98

Gareth was my record signing at Aston Villa, a quite brilliant defender, and I think so highly of him that we asked him to write the foreword for my recent autobiography.

That was really kind of him to do as the England manager, but in many ways it was his big break in 1995 coming from Crystal Palace to Villa when I was manager.

It was a lot of money at the time – £4.5million – but he completely justified what we paid out for him. He was just one of those players who settled in really well.

We had big Ugo Ehiogu, God rest his soul, Paul McGrath and Gareth as the back three, and I think in recent Villa history as a group they would be rated highly by every supporter.

Southgate was well liked at Aston Villa – reliable and good fun

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He never needed any managing, he gelled in seamlessly and was incredibly reliable. He didn’t need any looking after, at times he could be serious but then there were other occasions where he’d be in the middle of the pranks.

I often saw him at Villa matches last season, because he was coming to watch a lot of the players. We’ve always got on well and it’s very amicable between the two of us.

I never imagined him becoming a manager when he was playing under me, but he’s taken it on and performed brilliantly.

Gareth is just one of those people who seems to take everything in his stride.

Steve McClaren – Middlesbrough, 1998-2006

Gareth was my first signing at Middlesbrough and my most important. There were a lot of senior players at the club but not all epitomising what I would call professional. I needed someone that embodied what I wanted from a football player and brought him in for his leadership and behaviour.

He was first in and last away, he did his work 100 per cent every day, it was always the same. I wanted everyone to look to him and say ‘That’s what a top footballer is like, that’s how he behaves and that’s how he should behave’.

As a leader, he brought people together and I think that’s the key thing he’s demonstrating at the present moment with England. We used to have a lot of foreign players and they’d all form cliques and, yes, at lunchtimes, meal times, there would be the same people on the same tables. But Gareth was the only one who, at every meal time, would go and sit on a different table. He would sit and chat and keep people there half an hour after they’d finished their meal and then the next meal time he’d move to another table and do the same. He broke down those cliques and others followed his lead. That was a stand out feature for me. He was the glue that brought everybody together so whoever we had – Italians, Dutch – he could mix with them all and relate and get through to every one of them. He was held up as the demonstration of what I wanted. He was a fantastic captain for me in that sense.

Gareth Southgate was a leader at Middlesbrough

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I thought I was losing Paul Ince the summer Gareth came in. Paul was a winner and demonstrated that professionalism to win but he could be abrasive at times, which was fine because I’d had that with everyone at Manchester United, Roy Keane being the most obvious example. So dealing with Paul was no problem but because he enjoyed the pre-season he wanted to stay. That gave me a problem with Gareth because Paul was the captain. I remember having a conversation with Gareth and explaining the situation. ‘It’s an armband, you’re the true leader, you’re the future of the club’ and he accepted that straight away.

Gareth offered a different kind of leadership – Roy, Paul, they were loud, abrasive, challenging, in your face. Gareth was never that. He never got too high, never got too low, he was always level. He never over celebrated, he never got too down about defeats, he moved on very quickly. He did his job, recovered. ‘Right, next game, how do we win this one?’ In terms of managing and leadership, he’s really come to the fore now.

Glenn Hoddle – England, 1996-98

I remember before the big game in Rome in 1997, when we had to get a point against Italy to qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals, Gareth had a slight ankle problem. We knew he was going to be fit, but we decided to pretend he was injured in our training session before the match.

It was supposed to be a closed training session but we knew the Italians would find a way to watch what we were doing. I said to Gareth: “We are going to pull you out of the training session in the last 10 minutes and pretend you are injured.” He looked at me and just said: “What, me?” as if to say there was no way the Italians would be worried about him. He was up for it in the end but at first he did not understand why we would do this with him, rather than with someone like Teddy Sheringham or Paul Gascoigne.

Southgate during England's vital 0-0 draw in Rome in 1997

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Gareth was always very astute, calm and level-headed. He was someone I felt would go into coaching, as he was a thinker and he was very observant on everything that was being done. When I spoke to him about what we needed from him as an individual player, he would ask questions about his role in the team.

He was always going to be in my World Cup squad in 1998. He was very dependable and he had experience of playing with three at the back. He gave me flexibility in the defence. He was solid and you knew what you were going to get from him.

  • Glenn Hoddle was speaking at a Betfair event.  Find out more here