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Colin Young: 'Southgate starts something special'

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England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: PA

England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: PA

England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: PA

A few years ago a well-connected Irish Premier League coach issued a stark warning. England could once again win the World Cup. He had been to see an under 18 game at Manchester City, England versus Argentina. There was a time when one team in this fixture, at any level and age group, would have played total football, while the other launched it in desperate pursuit of goals. In the game he watched on the vast pitches at Eastlands, England dominated possession, Argentina ended up going long, and losing.

Back then, my friend talked about the English FA bringing in a structure and a way of playing which would be introduced at the youngest ages, implemented throughout the system from grassroots to the senior team. Another FA pipe dream? In the summer it really started coming together.

When Gareth Southgate left for Russia in May, it was with little fanfare and hardly any expectation. There was a serious disconnect between the England team and the supporters, so consumed now by club football and accustomed to abject failure in major tournaments. And then England starting winning in Russia, Southgate instigating changes which could have serious repercussions for the rest of us for years to come. Football didn't come home in the summer but it was uncomfortably close and we never heard the last of that bloody song.

The plan reaped results, and positive ones. England looked comfortable in possession. Southgate trusted youth, gave them a chance and created an environment in which his players were not afraid to play. No longer did representing England bring fear and embarrassment.

Watching from afar, the England squad looked like a decent set of lads, which is almost unheard of. In the TV studio, then Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane poured scorn on the England players' social activities such as playing darts with the media. As much as I would love to have seen Ireland at the finals in Russia, media relations would surely have reached an all-time low with a management team that went looking for fights with their critics, rather than trying to appease, embrace or help them.

Reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup felt like the beginning for Southgate's England, not the end. The rest of us will have to get used to England being contenders on the world stage again, and with their supporters getting carried away with more traditional pre-tournament optimism. And sadly, we may never hear the last of that bloody song.

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