It started in a school field in the west of Middlesbrough, as veteran defender Gareth Southgate, then 35, told kids about the importance of sport.
Could Gareth Southgate be a manager?
It was a sunny Friday afternoon, May 5, 2006, when the Boro captain tentatively set in motion the coaching career that will peak in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.
“It’s something I’d not even considered really until a fortnight ago, but I do want to coach and manage in the future,” he said.
Steve McClaren had just been given the England job on the back of Boro’s charge to the UEFA Cup final, and Southgate told me, and a colleague, of his new hope.
Nearing the end of his playing days at Boro, there were clues he wanted much, much more from his career after serving Crystal Palace, Villa and Boro.
He spoke of six losing semi finals, two final appearances, one victory. Fifty-plus England caps, but transfers to elite clubs, and probably more trophies, that fell through.
“I’m deeply conscious of what I’ve not had,” he said while discussing his book Woody and Nord, a Football Friendship at a North Yorkshire hotel.
“Mixing with players at international level deepened my lack of fulfilment. Because they played with Man United and won trophies didn’t mean they were better than me.”
“My career ambitions may be unattainable, I may retire with regrets….” was his conclusion.
Well, maybe not…
But it has been a bumpy journey, even considering his biggest worry about management. “Can you be a football manager and see your family grow up,” Southgate once asked.
When he was fired by Boro at midnight, after a 2-0 home win against Derby, while well-placed for a play off push, there was more time to spend with his kids and wife Alison.
He was out of the game for almost four years, studying teams, unsuccessfully applying for jobs, and working for ITV.
But it was lonely. He said during an England U21 meet up: “You find yourself out of work, under the wife’s feet and looking for a community. I found mine at the local gym, having cups of coffee with pensioners. That became my social group!”
The experience left him “hardened”. On U21 duty he said: “Losing your job is something that will affect anyone’s confidence. Anyone who has been through that, no matter what you earn or what you have achieved in your life, it is a blow to the ego.
“It gave me the opportunity to go away and learn and strengthen myself in areas of coaching that I needed more knowledge: management, leadership. It is different from leadership on the field as you are leading an organisation.