‘I didn’t go out for days’ – England coach Chris Powell on the highs and lows of this summer’s European Championships

Chris Powell has so many memories – and some contrasting emotions – from the European Championships finals this summer.

So much of that summer was magical for England supporters as Gareth Southgate’s side reached the Wembley showpiece against Italy and finally beat Germany at a major tournament.

And Lambeth-born Powell, a part of Southgate’s coaching team since September 2019, enjoyed it every bit as much as those in the stands or tuning in on TV.

The 52-year-old former Crystal Palace trainee, who played and managed Charlton Athletic, went racing out of the technical area after Harry Kane made it 2-0 against Germany. He also jumped on the back of Jack Grealish following the 4-0 last-eight victory over Ukraine.

“I sort of lost it with every goal we scored,” Powell told the South London Press. “With Germany there is the history between the two teams and countries – we always seem to be on the receiving end. That was some game…some atmosphere. It was incredible.

“It became a bit of a running theme – people saw me on Twitter running up and down. Then I jumped on Jack’s back after the quarter-final. I felt like a supporter, to be honest. A lot of people were ringing and texting me saying: ‘You’re celebrating like we are at home’. You’ve always got to be proud of your country and proud of England. I was ever so proud to be part of the staff on such an amazing journey.

“I did get a few texts from people who support Villa saying ‘don’t injure our Jack’, because he was still with them at the time [before a £100million move to Manchester City]. Can you imagine if I injured his back? It just showed we had a such a great connection – even the players who didn’t play, which was amazing. People like Conor Coady, Ben White, Ben Chilwell – it must have been very hard for them because you want to get on the pitch and play your part. But they played their part in a different way.

“It was quite astounding how they behaved. It shows what kind of environment we’ve built and Gareth [Southgate, England manager] has led from the front.

“Our aim was always to play in seven games. That was the aim – from day one when we met after our friendly matches. Seven games gets you to the final. We achieved that but it was taken away in such difficult and heartbreaking circumstances.

“Since we came back in September we kind of moved on. Everyone can see how well we have played in the three World Cup qualifiers and we’ve got seven points in our quest to qualify for Qatar.”

The Three Lions saw their hopes of winning a major trophy for the first time since 1966 ended in the penalty shootout. Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka with Marcus Rashford hitting the base of the left post.

Asked how easy it was to get over  falling at the last hurdle, Powell replied: “I still don’t think I’m over it. I only recently watched the game back, which as a coach you would quite often do almost straightaway. But I find it so hard to watch beyond the first half.

England coach Chris Powell during a training session at St George’s Park, Burton.

“I didn’t watch Sky for four or five days afterwards. I just couldn’t face it, because I knew everything would be about that. I didn’t go out for a few days – the dog had to suffer for a bit. It was heartbreaking, it really was. It would have been rembered forever. And I know it will be, but in a different way, because we didn’t bring the trophy home.

“I found it very, very difficult because I felt we deserved it. With what we had been through collectively and what the nation needed after covid – people losing their lives and their livelihoods. It was almost like we’d been in reverse, the whole nation.

“Those glorious weeks just got us all together, got us happy and got us back to living again. There was a connection, for the whole country.

“As we’re seeing now with the food shortages and the fuel pumps [being empty] it’s just a nightmare.

“That summer we got so close to getting what we all wanted. That was the real disappointment. But we had to move on.”

Powell is head of player development at Tottenham, his boyhood club. He thought his contract with England would end after that loss to Italy.

“Initially it was until Euro 2020 and then that got moved to this year [due to the pandemic],” said the South Londoner. “Only last week I found out that I’m signed on until the end of 2022. That’s great for me and great for the club I work at. Both roles dovetail really well.”

England are unbeaten and top of their World Cup qualifying group – four points clear of second-placed Albania with four fixtures remaining. They play in Andorra tomorrow before a home match against Hungary on Tuesday.

The World Cup finals is set to take place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18, 2022.

“If you look at Gareth’s record it is semi-final of the World Cup, semi-final of the Nations League and the final of the Euros – we as a nation are on an upward trajectory,” said Powell. “Getting to a World Cup and trying to go one better than we did in 2018 is what we’re trying to do.

“We have some excellent players who will only get better and develop, as human beings and players. They play at the highest levels and it bodes well.

“We should be proud of our nation. We can be quite negative at times, but people realise now this is a side to be proud of and we’re always in the conversation when it is about best teams in the world.

“We’ve just moved up to third [in the latest rankings] and we want to get better.

“There are some very good teams internationally but we’ve got some very good results against these sides. We’re progressing, we really are. People talk about foreign imports in the Premier League – that has only added to our game – but it shows our coaching and development of young players is working.

“I’m seeing it first hand at Spurs. The players we are producing are of a real high calibre and standard. Now they get in the senior side,

“I’m seeing it first hand at Spurs. The players we are producing are of a real high calibre and standard. Now they get in the senior side, regardless of their age.
England manager Gareth Southgate with his coaches Steve Holland (second left), Graeme Jones and Chris Powell (right) during the training session at St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent. Picture date: Tuesday June 15, 2021.

“Jude Bellingham, out in Germany, is 18. He’s going to be a future star. If I had to choose one…there are so many – [Phil] Foden, Grealish, Reece James, I could just go on. We’ve got some talented boys supplemented with some experience – [Raheem] Sterling, Kane and [Harry] Maguire. I can only see a bright, bright future for this England team and let’s hope I’ll be talking to you again from Qatar.”

There were moments away from the floodlights glare that also told Powell he was part of something special last summer.
“Ed Sheeran came and sang songs for an hour,” said Powell. “Tom Cruise introduced his new film [a remake of Top Gun] which isn’t out until November – we saw it in June. And he FaceTimed the whole squad over an iPad, connected to the screen. That was on the Thursday before we played Italy on the Sunday. They are two moments not really connected with the game but two world stars in their own fields of music and film – it just blew me away.
“If I had to pick out a game it would be Germany, just because of the atmosphere and who the opposition were.
“Against Denmark everyone was singing songs on the pitch and we could see all our family and friends but we couldn’t go to them after the game or go in the lounge because of the protocol relating to covid and going out of the bubble. We didn’t see our family or friends for 45 days, that was tough – to see them in the distance. You couldn’t share any moments properly with them.
“That was a shame but would I have swapped it for anything? Absolutely not.”
Powell had previously been interviewed in the summer of 2019 for a role at the FA – missing out after making the final shortlist of three. But a fortnight later the governing body revealed there was another position available, which turned out to be the elite coaches placement programme which aims to build a more diverse coaching pipeline.
“I managed to get the senior’s role,” said Powell. “I was in between jobs, I’d left Southend. Learning from Gareth, Steve Holland [England assistant manager] and the support staff has been hugely beneficial.
“Gareth was a year below me when we were junior apprentices at Crystal Palace. He had to fit in, we were a real eclectic bunch – a lot of South London boys who were a bit rough and ready around the edges.
“Gareth came in from Crawley, he’d been released by Southampton, but you could see his quality and leadership skills, even early on.
“I played alongside him in the youth team and reserve team but then we went our different ways, with regards to our careers. I wouldn’t say we called each other every week but there was always that respect. We crossed paths again when I got called into the England squad, he was around then with Sven-Goran Eriksson.
“He became a manager and I became a manager, we saw each other at different functions.
“When I got interviewed for this role it was Les Reed [ex-Charlton coach and manager] who was technical director at the time. Gareth came in for part of it, which was quite strange! But I got the phone call saying that I was suitable for the role.
“I’m hugely impressed how he is as an individual. He’s tailor-made for the role and I’d argue that with anyone, because it’s not just coaching and managing. When you’re England manager you’re taken to task on a whole host of issues that have nothing really to do with football. They come in front of him and he deals with it so eloquently and thoughtfully.
“Everyone knows now about the synergy between the England team and the media – and the connection between the England team and the supporters. I don’t think it has ever been higher.
“He’s really built that. There was always a disconnect with the media and the fans. I’d say now we embrace it. He wanted players to be open and speak about how they felt on a host of topics, not just football.
“The camp is like a club environment. I look forward to coming, even though I’m away from home. That’s because I know it’s going to be well-thought out – the training, preparation and organisation. Everything is thought about, none more so than the Euros and the camp we had.”

 


 

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