At the last World Cup in 2014, England didn't make it out of the group stage. The 2018 World Cup has been a different affair, thanks in part to manager Gareth Southgate. On Saturday, England will face Sweden in the quarterfinals and are not only favorites to win that match, but at 4-1, are tied with France and Belgium for the second-best odds behind only Brazil (11-4) to win the whole thing.
So why are we talking about England's chances to win the World Cup for the first (and only) time since 1966? Because Southgate is an outside-the-box manager who has looked to the NFL for insights into how to better prepare his team. He's attended two Super Bowls -- including the Eagles-Patriots get-together in February -- and has also watched the Seattle Seahawks along with assistant Allan Russell to better learn their tactics.
"The technical details of the sports are different but the challenges of leadership, team building, best ways of dealing with the media, that crosses over for every sport," Southgate said. "To get a view from different sports, different countries with similar sorts of problems, every time I do it you take away pages of notes and then it's 'OK, what applies to our sport and how might we get it to work?'"
In February, days before the Super Bowl, Southgate told Sky Sports that he was interested in seeing if anything he learned from studying NFL teams could be applied to English football, particularly when it came to interactions with the media.
"One of the reasons some of our guys have travelled is to see how the NFL operate because we don't have to do things the way they've always been done, we can try different things that work," he said at the time. I think sometimes around major tournaments the relationships between our guys and the media has been a bit confrontational and I don't think it has to be that way. So this [Super Bowl] seems very open, a lot more relaxed, there seems to be a lot more respect between people.
"If you keep always doing what you've always done you get the same results."
Southgate also admitted that he was inspired by watching these coaches on the game's biggest stage, which proved to be a preview for the 2018 World Cup.
"The fascination for me is, yes, the occasion, but also watching the coaches on the side and the defensive strategies and attacking strategies of the teams, so there'll be so much that I'm looking forward to watching as well as just the game and the outcome," Southgate said. "All of the coaches have been speaking about the details of what is going on and you're always thinking about how it might relate to your sport."
Five months later and Southgate is two games away from getting England into the finals.
"You're always trying to bring new ideas to your team and new ways of thinking, and anything that can possibly add to what you're delivering," he said.