They needed it as well. The former Middlesbrough manager identified quickly that the culture of England needed rebuilding in the wake of the desperate exit at the hands of Iceland from the second-round of Euro 2016 and the subsequent scandal involving Sam Allardyce.
Fans were as angry as they have ever been at their multi-millionaire footballers failing to deliver when it mattered most.
If they weren’t angry, they were apathetic, uninterested in the fortunes of the men who represented them.
Their stars were not performing on the international stage and it felt like they were not accountable for that inaction.
Roy Hodgson, the manager, resigned in the post-match press conference after the Iceland embarrassment, taking the focus off the players and denying the public the right for an inquest.
If they weren’t angry or apathetic, they were then disgusted by the behaviour of Allardyce, the man appointed to succeed Hodgson who took charge of one game and then left after a newspaper sting uncovered him offering advice on how to “get around” rules on player transfers.
The late summer, early autumn of 2016, was a low ebb in England fandom. The national team needed a public-image facelift as much as they needed an about-turn in fortunes on the pitch. Southgate, while not the big name demanded by that disenfranchised support, quietly began the revolution upon his appointment, initially in temporary charge in September 2016.
There are echoes in that scenario from a few years earlier when Stuart Lancaster stepped into the breach with the England rugby union team.
Union fans were similarly angry. An early exit from a major tournament (on this occasion the 2011 World Cup), disgrace off the pitch on that tour to New Zealand and a figurehead in Martin Johnson, who just eight years removed from lifting the World Cup as captain, had generated a culture of disconnect between players and fans. I sat in a fair few of Johnson’s press conferences as head coach; the relationship between him and the media was not a warm one, it was spiky. Johnson saw the media as the enemy and the tension grew.
Lancaster, a bit of a nobody at the time on a national scale, offered to take the reins for the 2012 Six Nations Championship to steady the ship.
He did more than that. He won four out of five games, opened up England to the media and began the healing process between players and fanbase.
Lancaster spoke often about culture, he got his players to rediscover the pride in wearing the shirt and he took them to train with young kids at local schools, to help breed new fans and show these players just what wearing the Red Rose meant to the greater public.
Living in Leeds having spent 20 years as a player, coach and director of rugby with Leeds Tykes, was perfect for us at The Yorkshire Post.
We already had a good relationship with Lancaster because of his Leeds days, now we had a good relationship with the England head coach, even if it was for in ‘interim’ period.
We were there when he held an off-the-record briefing in January 2012 to talk the media through his strategy to rebuild England’s style of play and their culture.
No arrogance. No rhetoric. No bull****. Just a genuine attempt to improve England in all areas.
And it worked: second place in that first Six Nations and the job awarded on a permanent basis. England’s rugby union team were on the road to redemption.
Southgate had one fewer game to prove his credentials, and while two wins and two draws against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain was solid if unspectacular, it was enough to convince the Football Association that he was the man to take them forward.
Like Lancaster before him, Southgate knew the healing needed to be done on and off the pitch. Making England’s footballers likeable again was the aim. Making them human, and opening them up to journalists to tell their story was a masterstroke, even if to you and I it seems obvious.
Where Hodgson, Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson before him had treated the media with caution, Southgate embraced them.
Prior to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Southgate held a media day in which all 23 players were available to be interviewed.
Prior to a pre-tournament friendly at Elland Road, he granted The Yorkshire Post a 10-minute sit-down one-to-one interview. Gold dust for a newspaper like this one, and certainly something we never got under previous managers.
Prior to this summer’s delayed European Championships, he wrote a heartfelt letter to the English public asking them to respect his players’ right to express themselves by taking a knee in the fight against racism.
Was it ghost-written? By another manager you would say yes, but Southgate is an intelligent man, and could have crafted those words himself. The charm offensive, whether intentional or not, has worked.
Where Southgate and Lancaster deviate is the results.
Lancaster won four out of five games in the Six Nations in four successive years but crashed out of the 2015 World Cup on home soil at the group stage.
On Wednesday night Southgate will lead England into the semi-final of a major tournament for the second time in four summers and only the fifth time in their history.
It’s all about results at the end of the day, but on each occasion, a reconnection between fanbase and team certainly helped.