WHAT A thoroughly nice bloke. Thoughtful, articulate, reasonable but capable of passion, realistic but very ambitious, serious but with humour, honest, modest, polite, engaging, genuine, diplomatic, human, self-deprecating… but enough about me – did you catch Gareth Southgate in his illuminating hour long Q & A session on Radio Cleveland?
The Boro boss ticked all the right boxes and pressed a lot of populist buttons as he eased to a comfortable PR win. As with the team, it was an open and crowd-pleasing display that was totally unthinkable under the old regime. Stony Steve McClaren’s interaction with supporters was frosty at best and he would never consider making himself available to the local media in such an uncontrolled format. It would have been a string of foot in mouth moments that would have inflamed the mob, sparked new divisions and left in its wake accusations of arrogance, duplicity, self-serving spin and disrespect for the supporters.
But Southgate is far more personable, open and, well, intelligent. He realises the importance of the relationship between the fans and the club and is keen to foster it. He has a feeling for the club and its importance to the people and to the town. What a refreshing change.
It was a propaganda coup for BBC Cleveland too. The Beeb’s more considered Boro coverage is sometimes over-shadowed by the off-the-audible spectrum hysterical superlative-splattered sonic assault that is Ali Brownlee over on commentary rival Century. But with the crisis ravaged Two Legends show staggering towards disaster this timely gem would have prompted a mass switchover that could reap long term benefits. It was good radio.
It didn’t have the explosive political implications as Steve Gibson admitting on the Legends that he though McClarens one up front at home style produced “dross” football and that he intervened to make sure that formation was not used again. Nor the slither of steel in back as Keith Lamb casually told a suspiciously well informed caller that McCalren actually hadn’t signed his new deal he was seen with pen in hand four months previously.
In the Beeb’s Gareth Southgate show there was none of the behind the scenes manoevering, none of the air of crisis management and none of the strained reluctance of what were effectively damage limitation exercises on Century. Southgate’s session was far more relaxed, upbeat and underpinned by a resurgent optimism throughout the fanbase.
The Boro boss said he was pleased at how things were going but insisted there was still a lot of work to be done in changing the outlook and style.
He said that he was working steadily towards his badges and that continually educating yourself was a good thing in whatever field.
He underlined his commitment to the chairman’s vision of a self-sustaining club based on homegrown talent with a strong affinity to the area – “the heartbeat of the team” – but admitted he would still need to buy off the peg to supplement the kids.
He showed he was well aware of Boro’s place in football’s pecking order and had come to terms with the problems of Cockneycentric media bias and poor image and that he was dteermined to put the area on the map through the success of the club.
He lashed into agents and said they did not always act in the best long term interets of the players’ football career.
He spoke spoke warmly of the symbiotic relationship between team and crowd and insisted that full houses and passionate atmospheres had a positive impact on team displays but admitted the side also had a duty to entertain.
Admitted there were problems of perception with the old regime and that, while he felt a loyalty to his former manager and believed there were achievements of real substance, knew that if the club were to take the next step they needed to change their style to a more attackminded and entertaining one.
Confessed a love of parmos which occasionaly appear on the training ground.
Admitted that when on long walks torturing himself over selection dilemmas sometimes “the dog picks the team”.
You can watch/hear the whole thing again – or for a first time if you are an exile – here on the BBC Sports website. You can download it and save it for posterity.