Of all the extraordinary things that occurred in the Fifa World Cup over the weekend – Germany’s escape, the return of Colombia’s celebratory dancing, Jon Stones now having scored as many World Cup goals as Alan Shearer – one gesture stood above all.
Despite the sweltering 30C heat of Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday afternoon, which slowly turned England’s fans from gammon to crackling in 90 minutes, the now-Messianic Gareth Southgate continued to wear his waistcoat for the entirety of his side's 6-1 victory over Panama.
It was a Churchillian commitment to Britishness. Southgate is a man who has spent much of his life dogged by the fact his name is, unfortunately, undeniably and irrevocably ‘Gareth’, but he knows he’s never looked better, knows he’s won over even the waistcoat haters over the past week, and he’s relishing it.
As of yesterday, England are serious tournament contenders. Football is homeward bound, as I’m sure you’ve heard. But beyond the touchlines, an even more crucial battle is being won. For the first time in World Cup history, England may have the most stylish manager in international football.
So, as the third round of matches begins, let’s look at the current gaffer style rankings...
Gareth Southgate (England)
It shouldn’t work at all. His name is Gareth (a point we have covered, but it’s important that doesn’t get lost in the sur-nominalism of football writing), for a start. He has spent the first four decades of his life looking like Gobbo the Goblin from Noddy. The suit is Marks and Spencer. The pursuit of wearing a waistcoat without a jacket is generally reserved for magicians with forged DBS clearance. The tie is pure British Airways cabin crew...
... And yet, somehow, it does. Southgate’s transformation has won over a generation that remember him as little more than a gawky puddle of tears in Umbro. Now? Tanned, clearly working out, polite, fist-pumping, and the first bearded manager of the national team I can see on the initial page of a Google search, the Watford-born 47-year-old is a verified sex symbol. And, like Bryan Ferry or Nick Cave, the suit has become His Look.
Not everything is perfect. There is an argument that the bottom button of his waistcoat ought to be undone, for one, and the bracelet he insists on wearing looks like he bought from a tourist stall that also hawks miniature drones, bird whistles and sculptures made from Coke cans, for two.
But we wouldn’t want him to peak just yet, would we? 9/10
Hervé Renard (Morocco)
The former Cambridge United manager is now in charge of Morocco, the fifth African nation he’s coached in a decade. He is French, 49 years old, and quite preposterously handsome, even if he quite definitely knows it.
Viewers have compared him to Game of Thrones villain Ser Jaime Lannister, Matthew McConaughey, a Disney prince and “your mom’s new boyfriend”.
But in his trademark crisp white shirt, suit trousers and dark trainers combination, be honest – you would not expect your mother to swervé the Hervé. Just look at the man. 8/10
Jorge Sampaoli (Argentina)
You'll never believe what the kid from Stavros Flatley looks like now. Or, wait, is that Andre Agassi in his new role as the owner of the three highest-grossing beauty salons in the Basingstoke and Deane council jurisdiction? Or is it Louie Spence attending a party dressed as Phil Collins from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee concert in 2002?
No, it is fiery Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli, who also has full sleeve tattoos, incidentally. 6/10
Aliou Cissé (Senegal)
Not long ago, Aliou Cissé, the 42-year-old manager of Senegal, used to own the second-biggest spectacles in world football. Now he’s the biggest spectacle in world football and owning that, too.
The suit is a little keyboard-player-for-a-wedding-band, but Cissé looks superb. And his team have choreographed dances too. 8.5/10
Joachim Löw (Germany)
It’s difficult to comment on the appearance of Joachim Löw, Germany’s head coach, without rubbing up against the indisputable fact that he is a disgusting man.
Over the past few years, Löw has been spotted picking his nose, grasping his testicles, and scratching his even-netherer regions before sniffing his hand with glee. All on camera, on the touchline, before millions.
But leave that aside and look at him, with his latter-period Roy Orbison hair and deep tan. As he ages, he’s very slowly turning into June Brown, but he still looks good.
Löw's managerial garb in the past has included T-shirts and suits, turtlenecks, V-necks and the occasional oversized scarf. This year it’s a dark T-shirt, slacks and trainers. He looks OK, but like his team, has the rest of the world caught up him?
Whatever. He’s disgusting. 2/10
Hernan Gomez (Panama)
Without trying to patronise the poor little chap, Panama’s head coach is adorable. And that’s especially remarkable when you consider that back in 1998, when he coached Colombia, Hernan Gomez looked like the kind of man who swears he had no idea there was a family of nine adults and children living imprisoned in his basement for decades.
A Southgatean transformation. 8/10
The man tasked with herding Brazil’s inestimable talents into line is a distinguished silver fox, reeking of wealth and success. Tite looks how Philip Green probably thinks Philip Green looks, and I haven’t decided if that’s a compliment yet.
Sensibly, the 57-year-old Brazilian knows he is in charge of a team with enough flair, razzle-dazzle and vainglory to cover a continent, so he keeps his fashion choices simple. A navy suit, white shirt and gold crucifix forging its way through a thicket of grey chest hair.
Pretty Tite. 7/10
Zlatko Dalic (Croatia)
Much is made of Pep Guardiola’s style influence on football coaches over the past few years. The Spanish manager of Manchester City is rightly lauded for bringing a sense of panache to touchline dressing – exchanging the traditional gaffer suit for a thin jumper, say, or bringing cardigans to the masses, or wearing an avant-garde black turtleneck and Converse on a rainy December evening at the King Power Stadium in Leicester – and he has his imitators around the world.
Zlatko Dalic, the 51-year-old Zorro managing the Croatia national team, is clearly a Pep disciple. This year he’s pinning his hopes on a thin V-neck with a white dress shirt, tie and brown lace-ups, like a sixth former trying to dress like Eddie Redmayne by visiting Burton and only Burton.
The effort’s there. 6/10
Juan Antonio Pizzi (Saudi Arabia)
I do not want to know why Juan Antonio Pizzi is nicknamed ‘the Lizard’, but I have some theories and none is publishable.
The Argentine at the helm of Saudi Arabia is comfortably the most flagrantly terrifying manager at the World Cup, and currently roams around shouting in a solid grey suit and Saudi-green tie.
It’s all fine, but then there’s the hair, which provides fodder for conspiracy theorists everywhere: Pizzi lives and works in a country with 100mm annual rainfall, so how do his wavy locks look permanently wet?
Roberto Martinez (Belgium)
The former Swansea, Wigan and Everton boss brought a freshly-shaven head – as well as Belgium – to the World Cup, and looks occasionally like a miniature Mark Strong in his svelte dark suit. At a press conference on Saturday, however, well…
Short sleeves. With a tie. Unless you’re a 1970s Nasa mission control employee, please desist, Bertie, and keep that jacket on. 5/10