Gareth Southgate says his England team setup urgently needs more women

Gareth Southgate has said he urgently needs to hire more women to work with the England men’s football team, after accepting the current training setup is “nowhere near where we should be” when it comes to gender equality.

The England manager named just two women who currently work with the squad to prepare them for international matches. He said the Football Association as a whole was better on gender equality, with about 38% of staff being female. “But as my daughter said to me: ‘Oh, that’s good is it?’”

Southgate said he was partly motivated to ensure equality of opportunity by his family life. “What world do I want for my daughter? What opportunities do I want for my daughter?”

He said the attitude towards women’s football in the UK had changed in recent years and this needed to be reflected across the sport. “I meet dads who proudly come up and say: ‘My daughter plays football.’ Five years ago that didn’t happen. I don’t know if that’s because the girls weren’t playing or the dads weren’t proud they were playing.

“It’s far more acceptable for girls to play now, there’s more teams and clubs. Dads are now excited by that. There’s a real enthusiasm for it. That’s different to where we are with diversity of staff in the [England men’s] team. We’ve got a staff of 40 so [two women is] nowhere near where we should be.”

Southgate was speaking at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge convention, where he reflected on how he led the England squad to the Euro 2020 final only to have to deal with the “very worst of our country” after losing the competition on penalties and watching as some of his players were racially abused on social media.

He said he tried to avoid aggressive management tactics. “Every time you make a decision with a team, the rest of the team are looking at how the decision plays out. If as a boss you treat one person unfairly, don’t think about that person, think about how that goes through the whole business.”

Instead he talks to his players and tries to understand their frame of mind ahead of matches. “A week’s preparation could almost be irrelevant if in that period of time you got bad news. To understand where each player is, their relationship with their club coach, everything going on in their lives, it’s important.”

Southgate repeated his praise for the socially aware campaigns led by some of his players and how they have changed the public’s image of the England team through use of social media, rather than “sit-down interviews with print journalists who are 90% white guys aged 50-plus.”

“With the national team there’s more at stake than just the football,” he said, discussing the shaping of a new England identity around issues such as taking the knee. “The most heartening thing for me has been the people coming up to me celebrating their feeling of connection to the team who have been Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Afro-Caribbean. The change in that over the last 18 months has been incredible. I didn’t realise how disconnected from those communities we were.”

He said many of England’s players have suffered from racism and abuse all their lives, so he can cope with any complaints aimed in his direction: “If I don’t like it in the short run, well, welcome to what they’ve lived through for the last 20 years.”