Under-fire Gareth Southgate knows his future will be dictated by England’s World Cup performance rather than previous successes or the fact his contract runs until 2024.
Few could have predicted how the team’s fortunes would improve under the 57-cap former defender, who was initially brought in as interim boss following Sam Allardyce’s shock exit in September 2016.
Southgate led England on an unforgettable run to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago and within a penalty shootout of European Championship glory last summer.
The 52-year-old was subsequently rewarded with a new deal until 2024 but things have gone awry of late, with embarrassing defeats home and away to Hungary compounded in Italy on Friday.
The 1-0 loss led to relegation from the top tier of the Nations League and boos being aimed at Southgate, whose future is under scrutiny with the side winless in five games ahead of the World Cup.
“I am not foolish,” the England boss said ahead of Monday’s game against Germany. “My sole focus at the moment is to get the team right for (Monday) night.
“We’re focused on a good performance, a good result, then you’re looking towards the World Cup. And I know ultimately I will be judged on what happens at that World Cup.
“Contracts are irrelevant in football because managers can have three, four, five-year contracts and if results aren’t good enough then you accept that’s time to part ways.
“Why would I be any different? I’m not arrogant enough to think that having a contract should protect me in any way from results.”
Put to Southgate that the Football Association remains supportive, he said: “And I am absolutely appreciative of that.
“But of course we understand how the mood changes with the results, and it has changed.
“I am realistic about that. I’ll be judged on what’s delivered in Qatar and I am perfectly happy to be judged in that way.
“History is history. You’re judged on the next match and you’re judged on the next tournament.”
England play their final match before the World Cup against Germany at Wembley on Monday, when Southgate hopes supporters get behind the players regardless of their feelings about him.
“We’ve got 90,000 people, the stadium’s sold out,” Southgate said ahead of the Nations League dead rubber. “People want to come and see this team play.
“That’s because the players have done an unbelievable job for six years.
“We were on the back of a really difficult time, in terms of the relationship with the fans, at the start of that journey.
“Slowly we’ve built the (tournament) finishes that have been discussed already in this room.
“Of course it’s not healthy for the team to be having this noise around them. I fully understand that.
“But it’s for me to take responsibility, it’s for me to allow them to go and play. I want them to feel the freedom.
“I think they know that we always talk about that within the training ground and on the training pitch.
“I would urge the supporters to get behind the team. How they deal with me at the end or whenever, on the phone-ins or whatever else, is completely different.
“But this is their last chance to see the boys before they go to the World Cup and we’re all in it together.
“We can only succeed if we’re all pushing in the same direction and we’ve all got that positive energy towards doing well.
“What happens to me is irrelevant, frankly. It’s about the team. The most important thing is the team and the success of the team.”
It feels like there is a lot riding on Monday’s match for last year’s European Championship runners-up, who appear to have lost their way at just the wrong time.
Southgate remains convinced he is the right person to lead England into the World Cup and confident that the team will click in Qatar but he is “not hiding” from criticism and has long been braced for it.
“Look, I am fortunate that I am now, sadly, in my fifties,” he said. “I have been in football 30 years.
“In one guise or other, I’ve been to 12 tournaments. Whether that’s working with these chaps or scouting.
“This will be my seventh as a player or a coach, so I have seen pretty much everything.
“I have seen the cycle of war with the media. I have seen the absolute love-in.
“We are somewhere in the middle of that – or maybe not quite in the middle! That is fascinating to observe from my side.
“And it’s a life experience that I knew at some stage would probably come with this job, so I have to accept that.”