Don’t panic; that funny feeling in your belly is just the feeling of England doing really quite well. But what is striking is how many people want to put England down at every opportunity. Maybe it has always been like this but everywhere you turn now, when you’d think some might be won over by recent results, the reverse seems true,
It is very weird. It’s not like the England or Gareth Southgate praise is over the top or extreme. In the manner of the man himself, it is more a nod of modest appreciation for a job well done, as opposed to genuflecting in front of the reincarnation of Rinus Michels. Even so, he came up with a system to beat Germany and it worked. Sounds quite good, that.
So why do people still have a problem with England? Why does a side which has done well so far, two games from the final, still attract so much criticism? Is it for real? Or is it just the usual social media attention-seeking?
Non-virtue signalling is certainly very popular, far more so than virtue-signalling, ironically. It is easy to get attention this way. And we shouldn’t rule out these people being depressed and mentally ill. Seriously. There’s a lot of it about.
I’m not sure what is expected when the team hasn’t lost and hasn’t even conceded a goal. I know some look at Southgate and don’t see an elite manager, as though this matters. What does that word even mean? Did Carlo Ancelotti look like an elite manager at Everton; did Didier Deschamps for France? What about Maurico Pochettino not winning the league with PSG? It’s largely made-up nonsense which bears little scrutiny. Not least because when England did have an elite manager in Fabio Capello – no-one had a better CV in world football – they hated him as well. Of course they did. It’s not about football at all.
It’s about something more personal and internal and is likely applied to other things in their life too. It’s a working-out of feelings of inadequacy. It’s a defensive move against someone who threatens their sense of self in some way.
Some don’t like Southgate because he embodies something they don’t like about the modern world. A nice, decent, non-macho empathetic thoughtful man offends some men, probably because it challenges their own sense of masculinity. Lord knows, they don’t want that, that’s ‘woke’, their favourite word. All the aggression and name-calling hides a deep insecurity. If he’s successful, some will see it as a win for the woke and that must be resisted.
It’s also a safe bet to be an arch critic. Because only one side can win a tournament, the odds are stacked in your favour and even if England did win, you can still just make out they were lucky and didn’t play anyone who was any good. It’s a no-brainer.
In the court of public opinion the need not to be wrong seems, for some, to be very important. And if you back the manager and the team, you can easily look stupid, look like you don’t know what you’re talking about, so the critic’s position, if even if goes against the actual fact, is the coward’s position. Anyone can pick faults in anything. It’s easy. Perhaps being generous and complimentary is too much of a stretch because it leaves you open and vulnerable in a way being critical does not.
Football is hard to predict, so being positive is a mug’s game if you’re insecure about yourself, better slag off wins instead and claim it could all be so much better. That preserves their status as Knowing What I’m Talking About, if only in their eyes.
This is a very modern mindset, fed by binary internet arguments that you’re either brilliant or shit. There’s no in between. No-one could say England are brilliant, so that means they must be shit. Nuance is the enemy of the insecure critics, terrified to be wrong, unable to admit that they are.
But to the rest of us, Gareth just seems like a good guy, who seems to know how to set up a team to have a good chance to win. Getting to a World Cup semi-final and a Euro quarter-final sounds quite good to us. He is two steps ahead of his critics at all times, knows what they are thinking, has his responses all worked out in advance and has a perspective on football’s role in life.
And every success shows how wrong the critics are. No wonder they find it unbearable.