It was a few words shared by two men who became friends during television punditry stints and intended to lighten the mood but it was also a telling exchange. It served as a reminder that the friendship will be put on hold for 90 minutes, illustrated just how important the match is in the minds of both nations, and hinted at how intense the interest is.
If Southgate is worried about his popularity prior to the match, the mood afterwards would be a better predictor of job prospects moving forward. Not just for him. Tussles with the Auld Enemy produce results that can make or break men, especially when a World Cup place could be at stake.
Strachan is well aware of the spotlight being shone on him and his ongoing role as national boss but, as he unveiled the squad he will take to Wembley in the hope of reviving their 2018 qualifying campaign, he said he does not worry about his future. After the disappointing double header against Lithuania and Slovakia last time out, which leaves Scotland with just four points from nine and desperately in need of something special in London, it was rumoured he was contemplating his future. Rubbishing that yesterday, he says it is not all about him.
“The only problem we had after the Slovakia game – how do we get this group to a World Cup finals? It wasn’t a case of: ‘Oh, Gordon people are talking about you.’ It’s not fun but I’m way past that,” he said. “For anyone to think I was thinking about myself over the last few weeks… I have no fear whatsoever of not being a manager. I do have a fear of not helping people to get where they want to go. It is all I have wanted to do as a coach. My only thought between now and the game will be getting the result that makes everybody proud of us.
“I have absolutely no fear of the future so if anybody tried to use that as a stick to hit me with it would be like a Ken Dodd tickling stick, it really would. There is far more we should be worried about.”
How they combat an England side with pace and a pressing mentality is one quandary.
“I have watched a lot of them in the last couple of weeks. They are full of energy, full of talent,” added Strachan. “They are actually playing, because there are six or seven Liverpool and Spurs players, like Liverpool and Spurs – high tempo, closing down. They are giving it a good shot, trust me. They made a few chances against Slovenia. I don’t think there’s any problem with their work ethic. They have good players and good pace. They have got incredible pace. But we have sat down and thought: ‘Well, what can we do with the group that we’ve got?’ We’ve got a plan in mind. The usual plan is passing the ball to each other, scoring more goals and winning more headers. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
“For all the years I have been a manager, you can never really plan it. We all talk about tactics and there are a couple of things you can do that help but generally it is down to players.”
Selecting the right ones has given him food for thought. He has welcomed back former captain Scott Brown but he will be without Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson. Swansea City’s Stephen Kingsley has been brought in to vie with Lee Wallace for that left-back berth while Callum Paterson is the only out and out right-back, albeit Russell Martin and Ikechi Anya offer alternatives and Strachan believes that everyone in the squad is unified, behind him and the cause. “I have absolutely no doubt about that,” he said. “We get on as a group.”
The lustre of this head-to-head has intensified the resolve, he says, with players all pushing to be involved. “I could have had a squad of 40 – honestly!” As well as Brown’s retirement U-turn, Robert Snodgrass successfully petitioned for more time to get over his ankle injury and has made it into the 25-man squad.
But Strachan revealed several ‘thanks but no thanks’ phone calls had to be made prior to the squad announcement, with Charlie Mulgrew one of those making it clear that if there are injury call-offs over the weekend, then he’d be willing to step in. “He did say if we needed him, even for 20 minutes, he will come along no problem,” said Strachan.
“As I said to you, I have no fear about not working but the problem I would have is not being able to take everybody to where I think we can go and I have to deal with that myself if it ever happens. Until then, it’s not happening and we go on and play football and get as many points as we can. There can’t be anybody more proud of being the Scottish manager than me. I just think it is a fantastic, fantastic job.”