LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of England’s EURO 2020 Quarter-Final clash with Ukraine, we caught up with former Three Lions midfielder Darren Anderton to discuss Gareth Southgate, one of Anderton’s teammates at EURO ’96.

“There’s a real chance that he can become a hero forever and certainly put that Euro 96 experience to bed.”

Darren Anderton is talking about his one-time England team-mate Gareth Southgate, now turned England manager, who is just three wins away from the nation’s biggest achievement in 55 years.

Victory against Ukraine on Saturday would see England book a European Championship semi-final at Wembley – and a chance for the Three Lions to put to bed the ghosts of 25 years ago that Anderton is referring to.

On that fateful night, of course, it was Southgate’s missed penalty that prevented England from advancing past Germany in a shootout at Wembley to the final of Euro 96.

“Everybody felt for Gareth – I mean, what a feeling,” Anderton tells BETDAQ. “You feel dreadful for yourself but in that moment, everybody was around him – we win together, we lose together, anyone can miss a penalty. I think the way Gareth handled it both on the night and ongoing was just typical of the person he was. The way he looked at it was that it was a part of football.

“It’s a nightmare scenario… The fact we’ve gone out in a semi-final at a tournament in a summer that no one wanted to end unless we were going to be winners. He felt like he’d let people down but the last thing he did was let anyone down. We scored five penalties out of five, so did Germany. Unfortunately for Gareth he was unlucky and his didn’t go in, but he dealt with it in a brilliant way… The pizza adverts and all that sort of thing – never scared to make fun of himself or anything else. He got stronger for it and is able to deal with things that are thrown at him now because he hopefully won’t ever have to deal with anything like that ever again.”

That’s certainly the way that Southgate himself has often discussed the matter, having spoken eloquently in the past about how such a nightmare scenario has toughened him up for the role of England manager and all it has to throw at him.

Southgate’s calm and collected manner as Three Lions boss and the way he is able to speak out on certain complex issues has won him plenty of plaudits.

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For Anderton – who played alongside Southgate for England for six years, including at Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup – his old team-mate’s intellect was something that always stood out.

“His intelligence was always clear at the time, he was definitely one of the more intelligent guys in the group. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in the dentist’s chair!” Anderson jokes in relation to the drinking game that the England squad came under fire for during their trip to Hong Kong prior to Euro 96.

“You knew he was a clever, smart guy and always took things on board. He was always asking questions of the senior players – with Stuart Pearce, with Tony Adams – always in their ear and listening. When you look back at that, you do think maybe he always had a thought of going into management, the fact that he always was that clever and was thinking ahead. Whereas myself and others were in the moment, Gareth was always thinking. That’s the best way to sum it up, he was a thinker.”

England’s Euro 96 squad was certainly not short of leaders – Adams, Pearce, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer, David Platt… The list goes on.

But Southgate too could also be added to that group, as a player that captained all three of the clubs he played for in Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.

“He made his presence felt in the dressing room but he wasn’t just shouting his mouth off for effect, he was just a very calming influence,” former Tottenham midfielder Anderton says. “There were real leaders in that dressing room anyway, much more experienced than him. But his communication and organisation on the pitch was unbelievable and that’s what he brought with him his whole career. On the pitch he read the game so well, he’d always be so communicative. He was not overawed by any situation as he had an incredible belief in his own ability, which he should have done as he was a hell of a player, a very underrated one.”

Looking back, it’s perhaps obvious that Southgate was a player always cut out for the ways of management with the tailor-made attributes required.

But did Anderton and his team-mates ever think that at the time?

“Even though he was a great talker and communicator, he was also a really good listener and took things on board,” Anderton says. “Of course, when you’re playing for England the last thing you’re thinking of is what people are going to be doing 10 to 15 years down the line when you retire. But now when you sit here at the end of your career and you see certain players go on to be managers, it’s absolutely no surprise that Gareth is now a manager. It was perhaps a bit of a surprise he got the England job in the first place, because there were so many candidates – but now it’s a no-brainer.”

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It’s hard to argue – despite some of the criticism that’s come Southgate’s way for his conservative approach.

Since taking over as England boss, Southgate has guided the nation to a first World Cup semi-final in 28 years and now, with a place in the last eight at Euro 2020 secured, the Three Lions are aiming to reach a first major final since 1966.

“As England manager he’s done great. Before him it was really tough to watch, the players didn’t enjoy playing for England. That’s completely turned around now, the players love playing for him. He’s done an unbelievable job,” Anderton says.

“It’s probably the hardest job in the world the England job, but he does it effortlessly and that’s what I love to see in him. He doesn’t let it get the better of him. He’s very calm, whether it’s a great result like against Germany or a result that’s not quite up to scratch. He’s very grounded and keeps level-headed and that’s what you need more than anything in that job. He has everything and he doesn’t leave anything out, he does it all.”