Leon Wobschall: Tough lessons learned at Boro hand Gareth Southgate the right tools for the very top job

IN terms of shaping the managerial DNA of Gareth Southgate, the events of seven years ago this month clearly had a profound effect upon him.

RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB: 'Interim' England manager Gareth Southgate. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA.

The only thing certain about dug-out life is that managers receive the sack from time to time, unless you are extremely lucky – with Southgate’s watershed moment arriving in the bowels of Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium in the early hours of October 21, 2009.

As tough as it was for Southgate at the time when Boro’s hierarchy wielded the axe following the club’s 2-0 home win over Derby County – which moved the Teessiders up to fourth in the Championship table – the longer-term effects proved rather more beneficial.

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It was pain followed by longer-term gain, with Southgate’s dismissal having the effect of toughening him up and enabling him to broaden his footballing education which has now culminated in him being entrusted with the England reins on an interim basis following the unedifying demise of Sam Allardyce.

Yorkshire-based Southgate may look the epitome of an FA ‘company man’ with his clean-cut, party line image.

But do not let it be said that he does not possess inner steel or shirks challenges either, with those events on Teesside back in the autumn of 2009 hardening his resolve.

Speaking about those events five years on, Southgate alluded to just that, saying: “In hindsight, it (Boro job) gave me the chance to learn and strengthen myself in areas of coaching where I needed more knowledge: management, leadership.

“It is different from leadership on the field as you are leading an organisation when you manage a club. You are hardened by the experience.

“I think I am a coach who has empathy with his players, but I am less worried whether they are upset and disappointed, as I have seen the impact of relegation on a club — having to make staff redundant and make decisions that affected the livelihood of good friends. That toughens you up quite a bit.”

Having a hard edge is a useful commodity when it comes to managing your country at senior level. Some would say precious.

It may represent a step-up for Southgate, but equally he is an intelligent individual. He will be shrewd enough to realise that, in the great scheme of things, he won’t be overburdened with the kind of pressures that are thrust upon most England managers.

In effect, the 46-year-old really has nothing to lose and everything to gain over the course of the four matches in which has been assigned to take charge of England, starting against Malta at Wembley on Saturday.

And if it does not go swimmingly, Southgate will return to his previous post as Under-21 manager with his reputation still intact and no harm done.

Yet it is a jump-up nevertheless. Just as it was when he was appointed as Boro boss in the summer of 2006, fresh from hanging up his boots following a decorated playing career which encompassed spells with Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, as well as the Teessiders.

Not too many first-time managers at the age of 35 cut their managerial teeth in the unforgiving Premier League as Southgate did.

He was only permitted to after being given dispensation by the Premier League Board, having entered into top-flight management despite not possessing the requisite formal qualification – in the shape of an A Licence and Uefa Pro Licence.

Southgate diligently completed his studies and did a decent enough job during a couple of transitional years at Boro, who were starting to run a far tighter financial ship after the big-spending Steve McClaren and Bryan Robson years.

Proceedings may have unravelled somewhat in Southgate’s final full season at Boro when the club were relegated at the end of a tough 2008-09 – with the Riverside boss subsequently removed early on in the following campaign.

But perspective to Southgate’s time at the club needs to be afforded, something ultimately provided by the man who sacked him in Steve Gibson.

The Boro chairman spoke about the tough task he handed Southgate, with Boro possessing an ageing squad and needing to cut their cloth financially. Gibson succinctly labelled the job brief as ‘ugly’.

Southgate endeavoured to lead as he did in his playing days – just as he will do now following the unwholesome events of last week.

With a good knowledge base of England’s set up and a number of players from his time with the Under-21s, Southgate is not coming into the job blind.

He has experiences of knock-out football and presided over a rare success in last summer’s Toulon tournament, which England won for the first time in 22 years.

His pride in the job will be manifest. But that pride will not be swiftly followed by a fall, like his predecessor.

The Southgate story

1970: Born September 3 in Watford.

1990-95: Makes debut for Crystal Palace. Joins Aston Villa for £3m in July 1995.

1996: Captains Villa to 3-0 win over Leeds in the League Cup final in March. Famously misses a penalty in shoot-out defeat to Germany in Euro 96 semi-final in June.

2001: Joins Middlesbrough in £6.5m deal in June. Named captain in July 2002.

2004: Becomes first Boro captain to lift a major trophy after defeat of Bolton in League Cup final on February 29. Wins last of 57 England caps against Sweden on March 31.

2006: Unveiled as new Boro manager in succession to Steve McClaren in June.

2009: Sacked in October, five months after Boro were relegated at the end of his third full season.

2011: Confirmed as the new head of FA elite development in January. Leaves in July 2012.

2013: Named coach of the England Under-21 side in August on a three-year deal.

2016: Handed England senior job following exit of Sam Allardyce.