Southgate’s patriotism leading England into Euro 2020 final

(AP) — Behind the unassuming coach on the touchline, Gareth Southgate grasps the privilege of a status never sought and the leadership qualities now so admired in England.

Holding what used to be called the “Impossible Job,” Southgate is motivated — not burdened — by the responsibility on Sunday of leading England into its first major soccer final in 55 years against Italy.

And without losing perspective, he senses just what winning a first trophy since the 1966 World Cup would mean.

Patriotism sits comfortably with the coach at a time when Britain — a country made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — is trying to redefine itself after leaving the European Union.

“We have so many things here that we should be proud of that we probably underestimate that,” Southgate said Friday. “We are always looking at the negatives of our own country and yet we have got so much to be proud of and so much talent coming through in all industries really.”

Playing in a European Championship final on Sunday at England’s home stadium is a chance for Southgate to talk up just what being British means to him.

“For an island our size we’ve got an incredible influence on the world and we’ve got to keep that in a positive way,” he said. “There are historic things that we should be proud of. We’ve had unbelievable inventions in this country.”

Whereas predecessors as England coach would stick to talking about matters on the field, Southgate has often talked about the role of sports in uniting the country since the 2016 Brexit referendum. And he doesn’t shy away from how the nation has been shaped by military conflicts — and the place victory over Nazi Germany in World War II has in the sense of nationhood.

Southgate brought up how much it resonated that England beat the modern-day Germany 2-0 in the round of 16 at Euro 2020.

“People have tried to invade us and we’ve had the courage to hold that back,” Southgate said. “You can’t hide that some of the energy in the stadium against Germany was because of that. I never mentioned that to the players, but I know that’s part of what that story was.”

The 50-year-old Southgate’s values of decency and respect come in part from the lows he experienced as an England player, missing the key penalty in the Euro ’96 shootout loss to Germany.

“If I’m talking to young people now, hopefully what they’ve seen is that those sorts of moments in your life don’t have to define you,” he said. “You have to work your way through them and develop resilience.”