Southgate: The right man at the right time
Southgate's trash talk is the right way to go
Gareth Southgate played a video nasty.
The England manager compiled the horrific lowlights of the Three Lions' perennial failures at major tournaments and made his squad sit through the lot this week.
Presumably, the video was a long one, but the message was succinct.
In elitist terms, England are rubbish.
Rubbish runs through their tournament history like a river through a valley, an obvious state of affairs that successive managers have ignored at their peril.
So Southgate's trash talk, downplaying England at almost every opportunity, may be a masterstroke.
Apart from a brief upswing at Italia '90 and Euro 1996, there is no evidence of improvement on the international stage.
And yet coaches so often swallowed the English Premier League hype to regurgitate nonsense about the next golden generation being primed for glory.
It never happened. England have won just three knock-out games at major tournaments since 1990.
But the patriotic piffle endures. The ifs, buts and maybes never entirely go away.
If it wasn't for the metatarsals and the missed penalties, the disallowed goals and the dodgy defending, the Three Lions would've seen off all and sundry.
And nothing brings out the blinkered English quite like a contest against Germany, who head to Dortmund tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
There are those who still lament Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against the Germans in the 2010 World Cup. Had the goal stood, after the ball had clearly crossed the line, then England would surely have prevailed against a younger, faster side superior in all facets of the game.
After all, the English had defeated their favoured foes 5-1 in Germany in 2001, a clear indication of the Three Lions' superiority. Never mind the Teutonic trophies that came later. Remember 2001 and the Boys of '66 and suffocate one's common sense with a warm blanket of patriotic nostalgia.
But Southgate isn't having any of it.
That's my job, to analyse what hasn't been right and then show the lads a pathway. I think we need to be pretty brutal about the way we look at it. I'm not romantic about it. I'm just focused on how we win.England manager Gareth Southgate
He went to Fifa conferences and sat uncomfortably through World Cup highlight packages that didn't feature England at all.
He recognised that the Three Lions were considered a bit of a joke everywhere except within the country's borders.
So he took the opportunity to detonate the British Bulldog mythology at his first squad meeting since being confirmed as full-time manager.
The video made for painful but essential viewing, confirming England's lowly status. His squad selections did the rest.
Thanks to key injuries, England's attacking options are sparse to say the least.
Up front, Southgate must choose from an old man, a kid who can't score and a marginalised figure desperately trying to regain the nation's sympathy.
Jermain Defoe is 34, Marcus Rashford hasn't scored in the EPL since September and Jamie Vardy used his England airtime to talk about death threats and his personal struggles at Leicester.
It's a mixed bag up front, rather like the squad generally, an awkward blend of veterans and inexperience with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling training alongside Nathan Redmond and Michael Keane.
Germany's names, on the other hand, will be familiar to millions.
From the dugout to the dressing room, the Three Lions are awash with mediocrity, which is often the case. On this occasion, however, Southgate has gleefully burst the bubble.
The days of delusion are done.
England's coach has only three years' experience as a club manager. His Middlesbrough reign began in 2006 without the relevant qualifications. It ended in 2009 with relegation and the sack.
Four years in the wilderness followed until he was appointed England Under-21 coach. He got the senior job because, quite frankly, no one else was available, which makes him ideal.
An intelligent, thoughtful man, Southgate knows the Three Lions reached rock bottom at Euro 2016 and there's no harm in reminding them - and the media - that England were burrowing their way to the earth's core when he took over.
He's an average coach in charge of an average nation, realigning expectations and slowly rebuilding from the bottom.
In this regard, he's the perfect man for the job.
Of course, if England defeat Germany, then they will certainly, obviously, most definitely win the World Cup and poor Southgate will be back to square one.
Stones: Gareth and Pep are similar
John Stones believes England manager Gareth Southgate has similar qualities to Pep Guardiola and sees the pair as perfect mentors for club and country.
On the face of it, the duo have little in common beyond their age - both men are 46 - and their overlapping playing careers.
While Manchester City boss Guardiola boasts a trophy-laden coaching CV from his time at European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Southgate was relegated with Middlesbrough in his only club job before honing his craft with England Under-21s.
But Stones, 22, having worked at length with both, sees plenty of shared skills.
"I don't think they're too different, both want to play football, both have got great football brains and knowledge about the game," he said.
"I think the fundamentals of what they want to get across come over really well and that makes it easier for us as players.
"(Guardiola) speaks only in team meetings or if he wants to tell you something individually. I think that's a great quality as a manager, giving you little bits here and not flooding you with too many things.
"And when I was with the U-21s, we had a great group, (Southgate) was not bombarding you with too much info. It was picking up little pointers during training or during games." - PA SPORT