AHEAD of a World Cup qualifier that could decide the fate of not one but two international managers, Gareth Southgate insists his own future is an irrelevance tonight compared to England’s quest for three points.
The former Middlesbrough chief will take charge of his third game as interim manager when hostilities are resumed between world football’s two oldest rivals.
A home victory at Wembley will surely leave Southgate as a shoo-in for the job when his Football Association bosses next meet but, equally, should Scotland prevail then the governing body may be forced to look elsewhere for Sam Allardyce’s permanent successor.
Adding further spice to the 113th instalment of a rivalry that began in 1872 is Gordon Strachan’s own future as Scotland manager having been called into question following last month’s qualifying double header that yielded just a solitary point from Lithuania’s visit to Hampden Park and the trip to Slovakia.
A heavy loss tonight could spell the end of Strachan’s near four-year reign.
Clearly, the stakes are high, but Southgate is adamant that concerns over his own position are very much secondary to the need for England to take another step towards the 2018 finals in Russia.
“I am not thinking about not beating Scotland,” said the Three Lions’ interim chief when asked about the possible ramifications of a bad result at Wembley. “That is not entering my head this week.
“Whatever the outcomes of the next two games (England play Spain in a friendly on Tuesday), that is for further down the line.
“I am not a coach for whom it is all about me. What happens to me is not important, we have got to win the game for the country.
“I have heard people say before that football is about people who play and people who pay. I think that is about right.
“My focus is on how we set this team up to play exciting, but winning football. That is what I want them to do. Everything that happens for me and my family is, for us, in the future.”
Pressed on whether he accepted that supporters will find it hard to accept his permanent appointment if England fail to beat a Scotland side ranked 57th in the FIFA rankings, he added: “Sure, yes, I totally understand that. I am not oblivious to all of that.
“But if I am talking to the players about focusing on the bits they can control and not just thinking about the win, then it is the same for me.
“I think it is wrong to focus on anything other than preparing the team in the best possible way.”
Neither of tonight’s combatants have had an enjoyable 2016.
For Scotland, the summer saw all the other Home Nations plus the Republic of Ireland compete in the European Championships as Strachan’s side could only watch at home on television.
England may have qualified for Euro 2016 with a 100 per cent winning record, but the second-round loss to minnows Iceland was one of the country’s most humiliating episodes.
Things have hardly improved much since, Allardyce only lasting one game as manager before quitting in the wake of damaging revelations in a national newspaper and the Three Lions producing two lacklustre performances in taking four points from last month’s double-header against Malta and Slovenia.
Victory tonight would be a start in repairing the damage of a wretched few months and Southgate is boosted by having a full squad at his disposal.
Harry Kane had been a doubt after only returning from a seven-week lay-off in last Sunday’s North London derby, but he has been passed fit and could start.
Robert Snodgrass, meanwhile, is expected to start for Scotland after proving his fitness in last Sunday’s 2-1 win for Hull City against Southampton.
Amid the pressing need for qualifying points, there is, understandably, a nostalgic element to a fixture that will see both teams defy a FIFA ban to sport poppies on black armbands as part of today’s Armistice Day commemorations.
Both managers know all about the passion that this rivalry can arouse with Southgate having played in the Euro 96 encounter and Strachan having been at Wembley as a fan in 1977 when Scotland triumphed 2-1 and the travelling supporters pulled down the crossbar at one end of the Empire Stadium.
The two teams will be warned beforehand not to let the occasion get the better of them in a fixture that has caught the imagination of supporters at a time when many prefer to focus on domestic rather than international football.
“This is a game where everyone will be watching,” said Southgate. “It is the sort of game that captures the imagination so these are the opportunities to turn that (perception fans prefer the Premier League to England) around.
“If you look at the viewing figures from England matches compared to league matches, they are incomparable.
“Sometimes that is in people’s minds and I respect everyone’s feel for their club. That is important as well. But England is very, very special.”