Being on a football pitch, in a dugout or in a commentary gantry, the former Middlesbrough and Aston Villa defender never made the headlines for the wrong reasons, apart from his unfortunate appearance in the semifinal of the 1996 European Championship.
In many ways, Southgate represented a safe choice for the post of England U21 manager but, unfortunately, he’a also a rather uninspiring one as the FA have replaced Stuart Pearce with a man cut arguably from the same cloth.
The former Middlesbrough manager’s close ties to the FA made him a favourite for the job, but it’s hard to imagine that Southgate’s approach will differ from the one of his predecessor, in terms of developing players as well as in terms of playing style.
Former England manager Steve McClaren and former Manchester United coach René Meulensteen were both thought to be in the fray to succeed Stuart Pearce at the helm of the Young Lions and the FA’s decision to overlook both could prove to be costly.
McClaren’s spell as England manager might have been nothing short of disastrous, but the former Forest manager re-built his reputation after a successful career in Europe, where he lead Twente to their first ever Eredivisie title, before managing Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.
Meulensteen, meanwhile, was dismissed without much fanfare by Anzhi Makhachkala as the Russian outfit began to come to terms with a new and more austere financial regime, only a few months after leaving Old Trafford.
Neither McClaren nor Meulensteen have CVs largely more impressive than Southgate’s – although McClaren’s league title ranks way above anything the former Middlesbrough captain achieved as manager – but both have a proven track record in terms of developing young players.
Both men spent time working alongside Sir Alex Ferguson and the former United manager has been a pivotal figure in the careers of McClaren and Meulensteen, particularly as far as empathising youth development is concerned.
Furthermore, McClaren and Meulensteen could have brought a more continental approach to the England U21 set-up, at a time when the gulf in quality between English youngsters and their European peers seems to be growing wider.
Southgate, who quit his role as the FA head of elite development just over a year ago, will also be responsible for overseeing the coaching staff at youth level, an area where McClaren and Meulensteen expertise could have proved extremely important.
After a summer during which England’s youth teams were embarrassed on the continental and world stage, Southgate faces a hard task in rebuilding and transforming the England U21 set up, and the former Middlesbrough manager’s most arduous assignment will be to convince the fans he wasn’t appointed merely to be a FA’s “yes man”.
Southgate was once described by Arsene Wenger as “good enough to be England manager”, but at the moment he simply resembles a very safe and rather dull choice for the job.