Gareth Southgate is portrayed as being ‘Mr Nice Guy’, but the England manager says those behind the scenes see a different character.
The 47-year-old is just three months away from leading his country into the World Cup, having previously been selected for four major tournaments in his days as a defender.
Southgate knows better than most what it means to represent England, so is well aware how hard being overlooked for the final squad before making his World Cup selection must have hit the likes of Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane.
The 57-cap defender has also eased out all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney during his time in charge, suggesting extra depths to a character that some have suggested is too nice for the cut and thrust of elite management.
“I was only ever accused of that by somebody I worked with once, when I was a youth player,” Southgate told the Coaches’ Voice when his ‘Mr Nice Guy’ persona was put to him.
“And that was probably six or seven weeks into my apprenticeship and, you know, they were having to toughen me up and there were some home truths given.
“But no manager I played for ever accused me of it after.
“I’m saying accused as if it’s something to be ashamed of and I think anybody that works with me knows that I want to win, and I’m prepared to challenge people.
“And so, does that mean I walk down the street and I’m rude to people and obnoxious to people? Well, I hope not.
“But does that mean I don’t want to win and does that mean I’m not prepared to fight for the company I work for, the club I work for or push people as far as possible and challenge people? No.
“I think I’m as determined as anybody else to be successful and I suppose my years of playing – and playing at a high level although not winning quite what I wanted to win – and now managing at a high level would tell people that there’s probably more than they know about me.
“But I guess from the outside you never really know people unless you’re living with them or working with them and even then you’ve got other sides to your character that are left for home and other bits that are brought into the office.”
A player who thought he would never get called on by Southgate is Burnley captain Nick Pope, but who is now hoping to do so at this summer’s World Cup.
Pope has been rewarded for an impressive season at Turf Moor with a place in Southgate’s squad for England’s upcoming friendlies against Holland and Italy.
With no clear first-choice goalkeeper just three months before the World Cup in Russia, the 25-year-old has a strong chance to stake a claim.
“It’s obviously a day I never thought I’d see come and, now it has, it’s massive elation for me and everyone close to me,” Pope said.
“There’s got to be one No 1. I want it to be me, who wouldn’t? It’s a massive honour.
“You’ve got to be hungry in football and you’ve got to be greedy as well. It’s a new challenge and a challenge I want to take on.”
Pope has taken a circuitous route to the brink of an international cap via spells at Charlton, Welling, Cambridge, Aldershot, York City and Bury.
He was then second choice at Burnley until injury to Tom Heaton – another on the fringes of international selection – saw him thrust into Premier League action earlier this season.
Pope said: “I’ve played in some cold, dark leagues. It’s a level – this national team – that you think is too far away almost.
“I feel like I’ve put in some hard yards and proven myself at those levels to try and get to this level. I don’t think it’s a fluke to get called up to the England squad.”
Pope did spare a thought for Heaton, who has much to do to force his way back into contention after six months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.
He said: “The last six months are something I couldn’t have foreseen happening. Obviously Tom going down was an opportunity for me and something that has blossomed into an England call-up.
“I’ve worked with (Heaton) for a year and a half now. He’s been massively supportive ever since I walked through the door (at Burnley). It can’t be easy for him. Being injured is probably one of the hardest things in football. He’s a top guy, and it has shone through.”
He added: “In football things change so quickly and things are rarely set in stone. I’m not taking anything for granted at club level, let alone for England.”