Gareth Southgate has never been scared to make the big decisions, according to Matthew Bates.
And for that reason the Hartlepool United boss is far from surprised his former manager and teammate has been a revelation in the England hotseat.
Southgate’s Three Lions squad qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup with relative ease, seeing off Panama and Tunisia before Thursday night’s 1-0 defeat against Belgium.
That last result, coupled with Southgate making eight changes, has led to some criticism of the ex-Middlesbrough manager.
But ahead of their last 16 tie against Colombia on Tuesday, Bates is confident consummate professional Southgate will have the national players prepared for every eventuality as the competition heads into deep water – and says he was never afraid of making difficult decisions.
“As a pro he was first in, last out at the training ground,” said Bates who was managed by and played alongside Southgate at Middlebrough.
“Becoming manager, he kind of got the job early, a bit similar to myself really.
“Perhaps he didn’t expect it, but he was great. He made some tough decisions with players he was friends with.
“You have probably heard the story about Ray Parlour and he got him out straight away. He wasn’t scared to make the big decisions and maybe he’s showed that too with the World Cup squad.”
It’s not just the strength shown, or his meticulous nature that impressed Bates, who knows just how good a job Southgate did at Boro, despite some negative press.
Bates continued: “He was personal too, I remember when he got the sack he sent hand-written letters to every player in the squad, all posted, not done on a computer, but it showed he cares.
“He went from being a player to manager and I was a young player at the time, someone who didn’t know him as well as the older pros, those who have been around the block a bit.
“We were relegated and he actually did well at Boro, there was a massive wage cut after relegation and we were top two when he got the sack. He got us mid-table in the Premier League. He was very tactical and trusted his coaches to do their job.
“I still see the personal touch with him now, enjoying a joke with his players and he seems close to them.
“I think he will have changed, but I’m sure he’s learned a lot with the FA. He’s done great, we have been very positive. He’s made changes with the press and how they deal with the media.
“I read he had let the players out for a beer after beating Panama, and that wouldn’t have happened four years ago. I’ve never understood grown men being told what to do all the time and he’s treating them well.
“I look at all managers and he is one I look up to as inspiration.
“He started out as a player at Boro and maybe he’s been quite lucky along the way to get where he is now. But he deserves it and has shown he’s the right man for the job.”