Gareth Southgate has developed a reputation for being a down-to-earth and personable manager during his time in charge of England – but that perception has not always been shared by everyone.
Southgate began his managerial career at Middlesbrough, stepping straight from the players’ perspective to the coach’s back in 2006. He was just 35 years old when he got the job from chairman Steve Gibson following the sacking of Steve McClaren.
The former defender’s appointment sparked some controversy at the time because Southgate had not completed the UEFA Pro Licence, which was mandatory for all managers. Boro successfully argued his case, but the problems didn’t stop there, with tensions growing in the dressing room.
Southgate went from being one of the players at a team he’d played with for five years to being their boss and that caused friction. One player who was particularly unhappy with the move was midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, who was demoted to the reserves, despite having a stellar career with Valencia, Lazio and Barcelona – and having helped win the club’s first ever trophy, the League Cup, two years previously.
“We talked about football a lot, playing from the back and had a similar idea,” Mendieta toldThe Sunof Southgate in 2019. “I’ve spoken about this with him and we are fine, but when he became manager he wasn’t honest with me.
“He didn’t explain the situation: the club wants this or that. He kind of tried to persuade me about things that weren’t there. Why send me to the reserves? There was no need for that. Whether it was him or it comes from the club, someone needed to find a solution.
“He has said if he knew then what he knows now as a manager, he would have dealt with it differently.”
Southgate was still finding his feet as a manager back then and he has indeed since admitted he made a mistake by isolating Mendieta from the side. In an interview in 2018, the England boss said Mendieta “wasn't in top condition” physically, but was still up to it “technically” towards the end of his career and could have been handled better.
"He had lots of qualities as a player, but with the way we played, we didn't get the best out of his ability,” Southgate explained on theGuillem Balague Podcast. "If I was playing him in my team now I'd have him as a No 8 or a No 10 and in-field, but back then I didn't have a clear image.
"I looked at what we had as a team, we had [Mark] Viduka and Yakubu so I needed to get those goals in the team, so how could I fit the other pieces around that?
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"But as a coach who'd just finished playing I didn't have all of [the answers] in my mind. So I then had a senior player who I'd played with and who I have incredible respect for, but he wasn't in the team. I look back and think I maybe didn't manage that situation as well as I might have.
"Then because he's a big wage-earner we had to try and move him out but he didn't want to leave because of personal situations, so it was all a bit of a mess. He ended up training with the reserves and I (said to him), 'I don't really like that scenario because of the respect I have for you as a player.'
"There'll be some players I managed in those first couple of years who have an opinion of me as a coach – Ray Parlour would be another – but they wouldn't have known what I was going through day-to-day in terms of learning, developing and understanding. Three years down the line I'd have handled those situations differently, and 10 years down the line you have so many more skills.”
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