City ace Gibson’s personal debt to 'hero' Southgate
- Credit: PA
Norwich City centre back Ben Gibson will be at Wembley to watch his 'hero' Gareth Southgate try and lead England to Euro2020 glory against Italy.
Gibson was a teenager at Middlesbrough when Southgate first embarked on a coaching career which has led him to the cusp of footballing immortality if he can end the Three Lions’ 55-year wait for a major trophy.
He was also the coach who gave the defender a chance at England Under-21 level and called him into the senior set-up in 2017.
But it was Southgate’s advice during a desperate Burnley spell, prior to resurrecting his career at Norwich, that will stay with Gibson.
"This is probably the true mark of the man," said the 28-year-old, who is expected to recover from an ankle injury for the Premier League kick-off. "When I fell out with Burnley and I was back at Middlesbrough training, nobody wanted to touch me with a barge-pole. I'd disappeared off the face of the earth as far as football was concerned.
"I met Gareth for a coffee and he gave me all the time in the world. He was brilliant with me. He was the England manager, think about how much he must have had on his plate, and yet he still made time for a player who couldn't get in the Burnley team and who hadn't kicked a ball for 18 months.
"I just thought 'wow'. Obviously what we spoke about stays between me and him, but he was brilliant.
"I'll be eternally grateful for that, and for the opportunity he gave me with the under-21s. He called me up to the senior team, albeit he didn't quite give me a cap. I still haven't given up on that yet, but let's just see what the future holds.
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"People say don't meet your heroes, but Gareth was everything I hoped he'd be and more. He's just a really special person."
Gibson completed a permanent move from Burnley earlier this month following City's Championship promotion.
He also helped his hometown club reach the Premier League earlier in his career, after idolising fellow centre back Southgate from the terraces.
"As a Boro fan and as a lad growing up as a centre-back, I always wanted to be captain and wanted to play for Middlesbrough. I wanted to be him basically,” he said, speaking to the Teesside Gazette. "I think back to the League Cup and the European nights, I remember the big wins and his fist pump to the East, West and North Stands after games. We'd wait in our seats for it and the whole stand would roar. Unbelievable. Sheer passion.
"When he picked me for the 21s that was the time when I really got to know him and we built a really good relationship. I just loved working for him. He was everything I hoped he'd be and more. I can honestly say I've never been around someone who you want to do so well for.”
That first attempt to impress the man who would become Three Lions’ boss came as raw 16-year-old trainee.
"It was the first week of pre-season," said Gibson. “The first team had just finished their session and we were walking past the pitch.
"Obviously Gareth is the manager at this point and he shouted over to us and asked who has the best first touch. Me being me, I put my hand up. I probably didn't have the best first touch but I thought I'll try and impress the manager.
"He booted the ball as high as he possibly could and told me to bring it down. My touch was actually alright. He laughed and said, ‘you've got a chance, son’.
"I remember walking off up the hill absolutely buzzing thinking I've impressed the manager.”