ENGLAND manager Gareth Southgate is just one game away from writing his name in history.
Only Italy stand in the way of the Three Lions boss putting the demons to rest that admittedly haunt him after missing a penalty in the Euro '96 semi-final against Germany.
The 50-year-old has always been a deep-thinker, even if didn't start out so well for him.
Amazingly, the responsible youth star once puked over a former chairman after a night on the tequila slammers.
And his first manager once told him to ditch the beautiful game and become a travel agent because he thought he was "too bright" to be a professional footballer.
Southgate's journey has been epic, to say the least…
'POSH BOY FROM CRAWLEY'
Although Gareth began his career at Southampton, before he was released aged 13, it was at Crystal Palace he would earn his chops.
The ambitious 'posh boy from Crawley', as he was known to his team-mates, was a YTS apprentice on a meagre £27.50 a week. A far-cry from his reported £3million-per-year England salary.
He had done well in his O-levels, but was determined to be a success on the football pitch.
However, youth coach Alan Smith delivered a stern warning to the youngster.
Unless he toughened up in South London, physically and mentally, he wouldn't make it.
Smith also doubted if football was the right profession for Southgate.
"We had one particular game, which we lost, and I called him into the office and said: 'Gareth, I think you're too bright to do this job'," Smith told BBC Sport.
"I think you have to make a choice. If it was my choice, I think you should become a travel agent."
Now a leader of his country and a set of players who could become immortal if they defeat Italy on Sunday, Southgate's leadership skills needed honing as a youngster.
Rather than release him, Smith saw that he was captain material and installed him as his skipper.
Then, he took a novel approach of introducing Gareth to an estate agent pal to do some extra-curricular work after training.
Smith said: "He was measuring up, mundane stuff, looking to see if a property could be marketed or not. All of these things help build the character that you become."
Although usually responsible, there was one time he did slip out of character on a tour of Italy. And the late Palace chairman Ron Noades was the unlucky man in the line of fire.
During a prestigious youth-team tournament of Viareggio, Tuscany, Gareth enjoyed one too many tequila slammers on a night out.
As he stepped into the hotel lift to go up to his room, Noades followed him in. Unfortunately for Ron, Southgate was sick over his chairman's clothes and white shoes.
"I was there when he threw up over the chairman, Ron Noades," Smith revealed.
"It was a trip abroad and I had let the lads out for one night. Ron had his white shoes on and Gareth managed to do it.
"I heard plenty about it from Ron the next day. I can't repeat what Ron's words were, but I do know Gareth was very apologetic."
The next morning, Ron's clothes were outside Gareth's room to be dry-cleaned.
Southgate made his first team debut for the Eagles in the 1990-91 season.
There, he developed the nickname 'Nord' given to him by former Palace assistant coach Wally Downes, because he reminded him of TV writer and presenter Denis Norden and vocal delivery.
Gareth would play 191 times for the club in a variety of positions, from right-back to centre-back and even in midfield.
He became captain and guided his side to the 1993-94 First Division title.
However, when the club suffered relegation from the Premier League, he moved to Aston Villa for £2.5million.
A winning mentality continued in his first season – lifting the League Cup.
His form didn't go unnoticed by ex-England boss Terry Venables, who would pin his trust in him as a partner for Tony Adams at Euro '96.
Southgate is well-aware of the 'It's Coming Home' mantra sung by fans, having lived it first time round 25 years ago.
He played every minute of England's Euro '96 campaign in this country, and did nothing wrong… until his final kick in a semi-final.
With the game against Germany dead-locked after extra-time, it went into a dreaded penalty shootout.
Gareth, as always, was brave enough to step up to the spot. Sadly, his spot-kick was saved.
He was later able to joke about it in an infamous Pizza Hut ad with Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, who shared the common thread of missing in a shootout too.
Ironically, there was some truth in Southgate being remembered in public for his misdemeanour.
On his spiritual honeymoon to Bali with wife Alison, who he met in a Croydon clothing store, he encountered a Buddhist Monk.
As told by Guardian journalist Louise Taylor, the story goes: "They were expecting some sort of quite spiritual, mystical conversation.
But "the guy looked at him again and said, 'It’s you, it’s you, isn’t it? England. Penalty miss.'"
MANAGER IN WAITING
In 2006, after five years as Middlesbrough player, Southgate took over the reigns as boss.
Because he didn't have a UEFA Pro Licence to manage a top-flight club, he could only initially be appointed on a 12-week deal.
However, chairman Steve Gibson argued that his international career as a player gave him very little opportunity to pursue his coaching badges, and the Premier League gave him special dispensation to complete his courses.
But Southgate's first foray into management didn't go to plan, even if he had a supporter in ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who suggested back in 2007 he was one of several English managers who were "all good enough" to manage the national team.
In his third season, Southgate's Middlesbrough were relegated on the final day of the 2008-09 campaign.
Months later, after getting off to a decent start in the Championship, Southgate was controversially dismissed.
He had taken Boro within one point of the top when he was sacked.
A DUTY FOR HIS COUNTRY
A call from the FA in 2013 to manage England's U21 team was too good for Southgate to turn down, after spending four years in the football wilderness.
It was a grounding for him to get to know the players he would later work with at full international level.
Under Southgate, England qualified for the finals of the 2015 European Championship in the Czech Republic.
But it would be a rude awakening in tournament football for the Three Lions, who would finish bottom of a narrow-pointed group that featured eventual winners Sweden, finalists Portugal and an Italy team that had Euro 2020 stars Domenico Berardi and Andrea Belotti.
In 2016, after Roy Hodgson resigned from the top job, Southgate made it clear he did not want the top job.
But after Sam Allardyce was forced to quit following a sports corruption scandal, he knew he had a duty for his country and took on the role that same year.
A glorious World Cup in Russia in 2018 almost led to instant gratification, falling to defeat against Croatia in the semi-final, as well as an OBE from Prince Charles in 2019.
Now, Southgate has the hopes of a nation on his shoulders as England play in their first major tournament final for 55 years.
You couldn't think of anyone more responsible and determined to bring football back home.
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