Gareth Southgate’s problem, it seems, is that he is everything they now run away from. He is respectable. He is reliable. He is consistent. He is sensible. He is patient. He is pleasant. And he is almost out of time.

Why? Because England.

The country that has managed to spend a full six-and-a-half years being the political, cultural and societal equivalent of Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes has got so accustomed to the chaos now that it seemingly cannot stomach the calm. A place so used to being an international laughing stock that if they hear anything approaching quiet they feel like they’re doing it wrong and line up another punchline.

Let’s recall the landscape when Southgate stepped into the impossible job. It was midway through 2016. David Cameron had stepped aside as Prime Minster in late July and Theresa May had spent the next couple of weeks Googling ‘what is Brexit?’. A few weeks later Sam Allardyce was forced out of the country’s other top job in the ‘Football For Sale (as long as you buy me a pint of chablis)” scandal.

In came Gareth. And over the past six years of Boris and Chris Grayling (he gave a Brexit ferry contract to a company without boats), Barnard Castle and Prince Andrew’s favourite Pizza Hut, Harry and Meghan on Oprah and Kwasi’s on the calculator, what exactly was Southgate delivered?

The antidote to it all. A friendly face, a conscience, a thinker, some truly masterful tactical manoeuvres (taming the tabloids with a single dart board), and underpromising before overdelivering.

Southgate has brought England here to Qatar and over the past three weeks exceeded expectations for the third tournament in a row. Tonight they’ll head north again to Al Bayt and take on the reigning champions for a play in the final four. Yet it seems to still be a fait accompli that he will be gone by the time it’s over, irrespective of when it’s over. You look around and wonder are they mad… and then remember that yes, yes they are.

You look around and wonder are they mad… and then remember that yes, yes they are

Southgate picked up a team that had been skittled out of Euro 2016 by a full-time videographer and part-time goalkeeper and his 10 mates from Iceland and has guided them to a World Cup semi-final, European Championship final and now find themselves 90 minutes away from the World’s final four. He’s overseen six of their 15 knockout wins ever. Depending where you fall on Bobby Robson, he’s arguably England’s best manager since Ramsey.

The sticks that have been used to beat Southgate have been myriad but of late they’ve centred on the following: that the players aren’t responding like they used to, that he isn’t getting the most out of a talented young cohort in midfield and attack and that there’s generally been a stale feeling about the place. Yet all of these problems could be bracketed as temporary. And given that he has already proven to be a manager who, with his support staff, can find answers, can coax a change in direction, a vibe shift, the overreaction to them has been gross.

If Southgate has completely transformed the atmosphere in England camps. that success hasn’t extended to those chronicling the national team. The knee-jerk groupthink that rumbled up in October and made James Maddison, he of one solitary cap three years ago, a certified World Cup starter across Fleet Street was another great reminder of this. Shrewd as ever, Southgate used the extended 26-man squads as an opportunity to bring the Leicester City man, cut off the controversy and hasn’t given him a second look since they landed.

The Herald: Gareth Southgate chats with James Maddison in the England gymGareth Southgate chats with James Maddison in the England gym (Image: Getty)

Four games later they are this World Cup’s top scorers, have kept three straight clean sheets and against Senegal unlocked the blurring best of Jude Bellingham, who shapes as a generational talent who does a lot of everything and all of it well. In between times, there was a mid-group crisis when they started strong and turned stodgy against the US. But this is international football now. Look at how Argentina have had to labour slowly, slowly to drag their team safely to the last eight, the Dutch press are in open revolt against Louis van Gaal’s negativity, Croatia have slowed the world down to their pace and are now back in a semi-final, Brazil supposedly the freest-flowing of the lot, left in their wake.

Didier Deschamps and France beat the Croatians and won it all four years ago by being pragmatic rather than ultra-positive much of the time. They’ve been more expansive this year by necessity rather than design, the loss of N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and to a lesser extent Karim Benzema seeing the manager retool his approach. But listen to Deschamps himself.

“I very much like Gareth,” he said Friday. “Not everyone appreciates him so much in his own country. That isn’t because he wasn’t a good footballer himself – he had a long and distinguished career and he is also a very good coach. He has enabled England to get some very good results over the years and I very much like him.”

How much he will like him come 7pm in the northern outpost of Al Khor on Saturday night remains to be seen. In running up the most impressive knockout record of any England manager, Southgate has mostly frustrated his opposite numbers by successfully hiding England’s weaknesses more than flexing their strengths.

Southgate has mostly frustrated his opposite numbers by successfully hiding England’s weaknesses

Those weakness are clear and clearly in Kylian Mbappe’s pathway at Al Bayt Stadium. Kyle Walker’s pace finally looked like that of a 32-year-old against Senegal and John Stones and Harry Maguire are the weakest links with Jordan Pickford, assured as he has been, always quietly threatening a howler. Southgate may opt to add an extra defender, reverting to the back three that the press have whinged about so much over the past year. This time such a teamsheet will likely be met with sage nodding of heads.

English shirts have not been present on the streets of Doha’s old town in big numbers as Moroccans, real and bandwagoneers, and Argentines packed the laneways of the Souk Wakif markets over the past three weeks. English fans have apparently kept closer to the quieter upmarket surrounds of West Bay and Lusail. The team themselves have stayed away from Doha altogether with their training base south of the city in Al Wakrah.

But on Saturday Southgate’s sensible approach won’t be able to avoid the fact that they will be back in the very centre of this World Cup, arguably for the first time. Friday’s events make this an all-European clash that carries even more weight. If Mbappe does find that soft centre, then that may well be the last we see of Southgate.

You’d like to think they’ll miss him. But they’ll be too busy embracing the chaos.