In case you’ve just returned from holiday on an isolated desert island, here’s our main story: the World Cup has reached the semi-final stage and England are still in the running.
It’s been a strange old competition this year. Perennial favourites like Spain, Germany, Argentina and Brazil have all boarded their flights home: booted out in a tournament which has been dominated by underdogs.
With only France and Croatia left, England are two victories away from winning the World Cup. Football, as they say, is close to coming home.
But how has Gareth Southgate done it? The answer is simple and concise: good management.
Under Sven-Göran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, managers with weighty reputations, England always struggled to compete on the biggest international stages. For them, players like Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney could never recreate their domestic brilliance.
In those days, individual merits took precedence over the collective.
Southgate, however, has fought tooth-and-nail to address this problem — and now his England team seems almost willing to die for one another on the pitch. Their sense of togetherness, especially when you look back at their nail-biting win against Columbia, is palpable.
Another one of Southgate’s managerial merits is his unfaltering faith in his players. This England squad has an average age of 26, and consists mainly of inexperienced youngsters who’ve fought long and hard to reach the summit of international football.
Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire, for example, both learnt their trade at clubs from the lower divisions. As did the team’s goalkeeper and star man Jordan Pickford.
Hilariously, after Roy Hodgson’s England team returned from Euro 2012 with their tails between their legs, Pickford had more important things on his mind. According to his Twitter timeline, the then 18-year-old was becoming increasingly frustrated with his parent’s reluctance to get Sky TV.
These players wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting on the team sheet in previous years. But instead of bowing to conventional wisdom, Southgate has adopted the legendary mantra of Sir Matt Busby: “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough!”
Before the tournament began, certain tabloid newspapers were urging him to drop Raheem Sterling because of the winger’s new gun tattoo. Like a true leader, however, Southgate kept his faith in the Manchester City star — faith which Sterling has repaid tenfold with consistent and convincing performances on England’s left flank.
Going into the World Cup, Southgate was deemed too inexperienced for the job. He was a figure of fun, who the satirists saw as a wet weekend in a waistcoat. But no longer.
Through understanding the importance of teamwork, and by providing his players with the trust and support they deserve, he’s delivering in the biggest competition of them all.
Win or lose, is it time for business leaders to follow Southgate’s example?