'Deserves more credit' - Ex-Middlesbrough man on the secret to Gareth Southgate's England success

England head coach Gareth Southgate celebrates victory over Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semi-final
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Josh Walker says Gareth Southgate deserves a lot more credit for his work as England manager, feeling that his character is so important to the Three Lions' success under his guidance.

A dramatic late 2-1 victory for England over Netherlands on Wednesday evening saw them qualify for a second European Championships final since former Middlesbrough captain and manager Southgate took the reins. Also leading the country to a World Cup semi-final and quarter-final, the Boro legend is the first manager of the men's national team to lead the country to two major international tournament finals.

The stage is set for Southgate and co to make history on Sunday evening as they play Spain in Berlin, though their route to the final has been far from easy. Not at their best for much of the tournament, Southgate has come under much scrutiny as various decisions and performances overall have led to vocal critics.

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But having played under Southgate after emerging from the Boro academy during his time in charge at the Riverside, Josh Walker knows better than most how the Three Lions boss is, and believes he deserves far more credit than he's currently getting.

“Let’s be honest, he’s done fantastic to get England where they are," Walker told Sky News. "When he first took over, we were in a real bad situation. He’s come in and delivered a semi-final, a quarter final and a final and now another final. For a team that hasn’t performed great, if we’re being really honest, I think it’s a really good sign.

"We haven’t really been lucky over the years and this year has probably been our worst performance in terms of games, but we’re in a final again. A lot of credit has to go to Gareth. We’re all England managers when we’re sat on the sofa watching and we’re thinking ‘why’s he not coming on?’, ‘why’s he still on?’ etc. But his decisions are working."

As Walker alludes to, Southgate's selection choices and in-game changes have come under particular scrutiny during the tournament in Germany this summer. But it was substitute Ollie Watkins who fired England into the final on Wednesday evening, while Ivan Toney was credited his vital contribution from the bench in the round-of-16 against Slovakia.

Keeping every player happy when so desperate to play games can't be easy, but the England players not starting games are coming off the bench and making positive contributions. Walker, who had his own frustrations with game-time during his time working under Southgate, believes the England boss is a huge factor behind that.

“He was very calm and very assured with everything he did," Walker said. "I’ve been in the changing room when he has lost it at times, so he’s definitely got that side to him where he can switch. But I think an environment like that, you just want to try and make it fun. He’s obviously building an environment there where the players feel comfortable and enjoy going away and that’s down to Gareth and his staff.

"As players, when you work under managers you don’t always agree with every decision he will make. I know there will be players in that squad who will be unhappy they haven’t played as many minutes as they would have liked. But based on my experiences with Gareth, he was very honest with you.

"Whether you agreed with the decision or not, he was always honest with you, and I’m sure he is that way with the England lads. Whatever you think of him as a manager, as a person he’s a really good guy. He always has the time to speak to everyone. Whether you’re the cleaner or the chairman, he would speak to everyone in the exact same way. He would listen to you and take time to have an honest chat with you. I think that, when you work with top players, that will benefit him massively.

"I wasn’t the most patient of players, which probably didn’t benefit me. Of course there will be lads in the squad doing the same kind of thing because all footballers want to play. I was the same - I wanted to play and felt I deserved to play. But now we’re in the final, I’m sure every single player will be supporting whichever lads are on the pitch, whether they’re getting on or not. He has and he’s done a great job."

England are likely to be the underdogs on Sunday evening against Spain, who are widely regarded as the best-performing team of the tournament and deserving finalists. But England have managed to continue finding ways to win even when not at their best and Walker is backing them to go all the way this time.

He concluded: “It was brilliant. The way it finished was unbelievable and the first-half performance was probably the best we’ve had in the tournament. I really do think we can go and win.

"Let’s be honest, in terms of overall performances, we’ve been poor. The criticism and scrutiny when you’re England manager is on you all the time. But now we’re in the final, performance doesn’t matter. We can play poor and go and win it, we’ll all be happy. I’m going to say 1-0 England.”