DOHA, Qatar — After being paired together in the World Cup draw Friday, Gregg Berhalter has revealed he contacted Gareth Southgate following his appointment as U.S. men’s national team coach with the aim of emulating England‘s recent success.
Southgate initially took interim charge of England in September 2016 before accepting the job on a permanent basis that November, instigating a dramatic change in fortunes.
England were knocked out of Euro 2016 by minnows Iceland, but under Southgate they reached the semifinals of the World Cup two years later — their best performance in 28 years — before losing the Euro 2020 final on penalties.
Berhalter became USMNT coach in December 2018, and after the U.S. were drawn in Group B alongside England at the World Cup in Qatar starting in November, the 48-year-old said: “I reached out when I took the job over. We’ve maintained a dialogue since then; we’re always bouncing ideas off each other and talking about international football and the job. It’s a strong relationship.
“[I did it] because of the similarities that I mentioned. I knew I was taking over a young player pool. I saw what they did. I also knew that he was taking over a team that didn’t always … there was always a little bit of a difficulty in playing for the national team.
“They were at a difficult point and he changed the culture. So that was something I was interested in doing, because we came off qualifying in 2018 [when they missed out].”
The USMNT were also paired with Iran, evoking memories of their meeting in 1998, dubbed the “most politically charged game in World Cup history” because of tensions arising from America’s support for Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war and the previous attack on an American embassy in Iran in 1979.
“For us, that happened in 1998 and our focus is just on how do you get out of the group,” Berhalter said.
“We have a lot of respect for Iran; we think it is a good team. And now we are just trying to figure out how to beat them.
“We’ve both grown so much since then. What I think is, 24 years later, the world looks different and we are no longer rivals with Iran. I think we are more friends. There is a ton of mutual respect.
“Football fortunately transcends a lot of the political stuff. We are able to remain friends on the pitch and we are looking forward to a good game.”
Off-field controversies continue to overshadow the buildup to the World Cup in Qatar amid concerns over the country’s human rights record.
England captain Harry Kane has raised the possibility of speaking to other national teams to coordinate a unified stance on the issue, something Berhalter insists the USMNT would consider.
“It has to be in line with our values as a team and our players have to be into it, but I certainly wouldn’t rule something like that out,” he said.
“For us, the beauty of having a World Cup here is to bring attention to the good things they are doing and perhaps some things they are not doing well. To shine the spotlight on this region, and Qatar in particular, and acknowledge some of the change that’s taken place and some things that still need to happen.
“We’ve been educating the team already for over a year on this topic, and for us individually, players choose how they are going to address it. But we think the best stance you can take is to participate in the World Cup to draw attention to anything that could be going on here.
“We’ve been educating the players in particular very seriously — human rights issues, gay rights issues are something that’s important to us. We represent a diverse group of players and it is something we hope the Qataris stand for as well.”