Gareth Southgate has always encouraged his players to speak out and to say what’s on their minds. They’ve taken him at his word over the past week or so and it has made the England manager very proud.
Southgate admires the fund raising efforts of Marcus Rashford which have helped get more than 2,000,000 meals a week to vulnerable children across the UK and he admires the way in which many in his England squad have campaigned since the killing of George Floyd in the United States.
“The last few days of Jadon Sancho and Raheem [Sterling] and Tyrone Mings talking so eloquently about the situation across the world and the BLM movement," Southgate says.
"It’s easy to jump on these and forget how young these lads are and yet I never fail to be impressed at how maturely they deal with so many of these issues.”
Raheem Sterling has used the moment to shine the light, once again, on the lack of black coaches and executives in English football. Southgate says football is no different to any other big business and must change.
“One of the biggest crimes we have is that young people grow up thinking to achieve certain positions to have the opportunity to reach a certain level isn’t possible. "I think that is where a lot of the black community sit. I’ve heard a lot of players say why haven’t I taken my coaching qualifications when I know there isn’t going to be an opportunity. So we have to look at ourselves as a sport to see why that has happened.”
Southgate says something about how the past week has played out feels different and as such is a great opportunity for football. But he warns that it will require those in power at the country’s clubs to act decisively.
”The reality is that some of the thinking that has to change is within the white community and the people who need to make some of these decisions are white people, it can’t just be left to our players or organisations like Kick-It-Out alone. Too much responsibility falls on their shoulders and people need to step up.”
What about the prospects of a black England manager, can he really see that happening any time soon?
“You only need one excellent candidate. If we can have a black president of the US then that should have been a forerunner to so many things. I would hope young people believe that’s possible.
"There’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be and I feel generally when I talk to young people anyway, the whole idea of prejudice and opportunity is changing but it can’t just be black people and black voices who are at the forefront of those discussions. White people have to speak up about it as well."
At the outset of the coronavirus crisis government ministers and the health secretary in particular targeted Premier League players for not 'doing their bit.’ Southgate says their actions prove that criticism was wide of the mark.
“I know my players and I know what other players who play in the league do for their communities or charities. You can react or let them ride.
"I’m in a position where things are written about me a lot but you have to let them ride but I think the actions of the players have spoken louder than the words that were said.”
While Southgate remains in a position of influence, you get the feeling change has a chance.