sport news OLIVER HOLT: As atmosphere turns toxic, Gareth Southgate insists we will keep ... trends now

sport news OLIVER HOLT: As atmosphere turns toxic, Gareth Southgate insists we will keep ... trends now
sport news OLIVER HOLT: As atmosphere turns toxic, Gareth Southgate insists we will keep ... trends now

sport news OLIVER HOLT: As atmosphere turns toxic, Gareth Southgate insists we will keep ... trends now

When the final whistle blew at the end of England’s defeat by Italy on Friday night, Gareth Southgate strode on to the turf at San Siro in his dark suit and his black tie.

He consoled a couple of his players. He hugged Jude Bellingham, who had provided an isolated glimpse of optimism on an otherwise bleak evening. He shook hands with the referee and the referee’s assistants.

And then he turned and gazed up to the top tier of the Curva Sud, where England’s thousands of travelling fans were massed. Southgate mustered as jaunty a wave as he could but he must have known what was coming. From high in the stadium, which is savouring its last matches before demolition, boos rolled down and boxed Southgate around the ears.

Gareth Southgate is standing by his guns despite increasing pressure from England fans

Gareth Southgate is standing by his guns despite increasing pressure from England fans

It is not the first time fans have rounded on the man who has spent much of his time in charge of the England team acclaimed as a national hero. He was the object of similar derision when England were humiliated by Hungary at Molineux in June. The World Cup in Qatar, cursed for its bloody and murky cradling, is almost upon us and things are getting ugly.

It was the end of Milan Fashion Week here but no one is swooning over Southgate’s dress sense any more. That phase of his England managerial career ended some time ago and he knows it. Southgate measured out his life as an England player in adversity and hate. He saw it all around him in the venom directed at managerial predecessors such as Kevin Keegan. He knows what it looks like.

And now he knows what it feels like, too. And he knows that, whatever happens against Germany on Monday, he will lead England into their first game of the World Cup against Iran on November 21, not acclaimed as the team’s saviour but pilloried as its weak point and identified by more and more voices as the man wasting a generation of attacking talent with an over- cautious approach.

‘England looking exhilaratingly safe,’ Gary Lineker, the BBC’s lead football presenter, wrote on Twitter before Southgate’s side conceded the only goal of the game to a rasping Giacomo Raspadori strike, and he speaks for many. 

Lineker will recognise this scenario from his playing days, too: England will go into this World Cup with their manager chained to the stake, just as Bobby Robson was ahead of Italia 90.

After the happy hiatus of the last two tournaments when the nation, and the media, swung behind Southgate and his players and watched them reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020, this feels like a reversion to the norm. The ghosts of Robson and Graham Taylor walk among us still and now Southgate is steeling himself for the ordeal that lies ahead.

The successes of those tournaments have been recast by many now as a parade of flukes and the luck of the draw. Even though Southgate has performed better as England

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