Gareth Southgate: Manchester United speculation is irrelevant - my aim is to win the Euros

ITV News' Sports Editor Steve Scott spoke to England Manager Gareth Southgate

He might still be one of the bookie’s favourites to be the next Manchester United manager, but you won’t get Gareth Southgate playing along with any speculation.

“I’m not a big gambling man,” he told me during a recent interview.

“They can make their odds but it’s not a conversation that’s been had with me. I’ve got one thing to focus on and that’s having as successful a tournament with England as possible. Everything else is a complete irrelevance to me.”

But would he ever rule out a return to club football?

Well, he didn’t tell me no, but the message is consistent: ‘‘If I start talking about that, then I'm already distracted from what I'm doing, so I think the country would expect that my focus is on England, and rightly so."

"We've had three tournaments where we've taken the public on a brilliant ride, and I know that we've got that desire to go that one step further," Southgate added.

And that means winning the Euros in Germany this summer - anything less than lifting the trophy would surely constitute failure?

Southgate is very accomplished in dealing with leading questions and understands fully that direct answers sometimes lead to unhelpful headlines

Credit: AP

Speaking of the Euros, he said: "Our aim is to win, it's for other people to decide what is success and what is failure.

"Ultimately, because of the progress we've made over five, six years, we've been so close that our mindset as a team has to be to go there to win the tournament and I think the players would expect that. I think the ability of the team is there but of course, you have to deliver it in a very small period.”

Does he believe, though, he has the players to pull it off?

Southgate clearly sees his team as a formidable attacking force, but then so it should be with Harry Kane, Phil Foden Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer and Jude Bellingham at his disposal.

It will be impossible to squeeze them all in as starters.

Southgate is allowed a squad of 26, but that still means some big England names are going to be left at home.

“I think in forward areas, we've got more depth and we have players that are in excellent form," he said. "And that's the area of the pitch where it's probably the toughest to make the decisions in terms of some players that are very good players are going to miss out.”

And of the players who are certainties in his team, would he consider Jude Bellingham to be the best in the world right now?

Again, the England boss won’t be drawn, but he clearly admires what Bellingham has achieved abroad, at one of Europe’s biggest clubs, and at such a young age:

"The impact on the games that he has, has been phenomenal," Southgate told me.

"I'm always mindful of his age still, you know, he's still a young player, and he doesn't need me putting more pressure on him, he’s coped brilliantly at this point, and we're very fortunate to have him."

In Qatar, after threats from FIFA, Harry Kane did not wear the One Love armband as intended.

After all the public statements leading into the tournament, that decision caused a brief but fierce backlash.

Despite that, Southgate is not ruling out more campaigning this summer, especially if the players are targeted with racist abuse as they were after the Euros final at Wembley.

“When we’ve gone to tournaments, we've not been looking to make political statements, things have happened to us as a team, like the racist abuse of the players that have shaped what we've done and stood for as a team."

He may not be in club management, but Southgate is still at the mercy of his players surviving unscathed in a saturated schedule; a calendar that gets more onerous with every year.

The global players union and the group representing the world’s leagues are threatening FIFA with legal action over its expanded club competition scheduled for next year.

Southgate is mindful of the growing demands on players and the impact those demands have.

“We are coming to the end of a season where there have probably been more injuries than ever before, in the Premier League certainly," he said.

"So, adding more fixtures to the clubs is a challenge. There's a Club World Cup at the end of this year as well. I think everybody will be concerned about what's happened this year injury-wise and whether that's the start of something or whether it's just an outlier.’’

Ahead of this summer’s tournament, Southgate has been trying to learn some basic German with the guidance of a phone app, but by his own admission hasn’t quite grasped the language yet.

“[My German is] bang average", he said.

"I was just conscious that I didn't take German at school. I did a bit of French and Spanish so when I travel I can get by in those countries, but with German I didn't have a clue, so I'm slowly building a small vocabulary…”

When I asked him whether he’d like to share some of that with me, he is as self-deprecating as ever: “I don't think ‘finding the tube station’ is going to really help us at this point!’’

The play 'Dear England' depicted the story of Southgate's time as England manager

Almost two years ago, the play ‘Dear England’ opened in London’s West End.

Starring Joseph Fiennes, it tells the story of Southgate’s time as England manager.

The man himself has never seen it and still has no intention of doing so: “I would find it very strange to sit and watch a play that somebody is playing me in the middle of it. I think it’s a positive reflection on the team, but it doesn’t mean I want to go along and watch.’’

A win in Germany would mean the production would have to rework a new finale. Maybe only then would Southgate find the temptation to relive his greatest ever moment irresistible.