Gareth Southgate’s “gentle revolution” as manager of the England football team is to be immortalised on the London stage in a play starring Joseph Fiennes.
“Dear England”, by playwright James Graham, is named after an open letter Southgate wrote to England fans in 2021 and is scheduled to open at the National Theatre in June.
Southgate, 52, was appointed in late 2016 when England was at a low ebb following a disastrous European Championship.
The former England and Aston Villa defender, who led his team to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020, has been credited with changing the culture of the side after decades of failure.
The play is inspired by Southgate’s journey since he missed a penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final shootout loss to eventual champions Germany.
Graham hopes to examine “the identity of a football team and the country”.
“I think what has happened to the men’s England football team over the past six years has been quietly extraordinary,” he told the BBC.
“It’s been humming along in the background, but we’re only starting to really understand now Gareth’s gentle revolution.”
Southgate’s penalty miss at Euro 96 was followed more than two decades later by their victory over Colombia on spot-kicks in 2018.
“What makes it Shakespearean obviously it goes back to his moment in (Euro) 1996 when he felt all the weight of that history and the pressure and expectations on the moment that he missed that penalty,” said Graham.
“Cut to 22 years later, he is the one who breaks the penalty curse for the English football team, allowing them to win a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time.”
Graham’s play also covers some of the “ghosts and demons” of Southgate’s tenure, including racist abuse suffered by Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final.
Southgate decided to stay on as England boss despite the crushing disappointment of their quarter-final exit at the recent World Cup in Qatar.