Belfast Telegraph

Steven Davis: How Gareth Southgate has followed Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill's example to revitalise England

Steven Davis has drawn parallels between Gareth Southgate's England revolution and the difference Michael O'Neill made to the NI squad.
Steven Davis has drawn parallels between Gareth Southgate's England revolution and the difference Michael O'Neill made to the NI squad.

By Steven Davis

Gareth Southgate has really impressed since becoming England manager.

In terms of his whole approach and changing the mentality of the players, there are similarities to what Michael O'Neill did with Northern Ireland.

It's also evident that Gareth has put a lot of emphasis into the togetherness of the squad which some believe hasn't always been there in the past.

It looks like they are reaping the benefits. Before this tournament there were doubts that England would get out of their group, but they did that within their first two games and he clearly used the Belgium match as an opportunity to give those players who hadn't featured some game time.

The last-16 match against Colombia tonight will be tough because they have some quality players, but with Gareth playing his strongest side again I think England will be confident of progressing, and a lot of that is to do with the atmosphere he has created.

I've read interviews with England players who have been saying how much they have been enjoying being in each other's company and talking about the fun side of the World Cup rather than thinking about the pressures of the tournament. That's important, especially when you are away with each other for a number of weeks.

Steven Davis knows all about the impact Michael O'Neill had on Northern Ireland's squad.

I think another good thing for England in this tournament is that there seems to be a better relationship between the players and the media. Again, I think Gareth has been key in that.

We are pretty lucky with Northern Ireland in that there is quite a good rapport between the players and the media who cover our games.

It helps to get along and it helps that you have a relationship because we travel together at different times and you are having chats that aren't necessarily all about football. You build up that relationship and it makes it more on a human level.

It is easy to say that the English media have put pressure on their national team over the years but they will say they are giving their honest opinions, even if some have felt them to be a little harsh at times.

The relationship Southgate has created definitely seems a little bit more relaxed between the players and press. There will always be pressure on England, but having more positive relationships with the media is a good thing in my opinion.

When you reach the knockout stages of a tournament, anything can happen - just look at Wales reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 before their defeat to Portugal.

With the teams left in their half of the draw, England will now be feeling that they can make it to that stage as well.

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