Southgate’s warning to new-look England
Think twice before pulling out of squad Do not go souvenir-hunting tonight
Gareth Southgate has warned that players will have to think twice before pulling out of England duty or turning down a call-up in future thanks to the impression the country’s youngsters have made.
Southgate’s squad for the friendlies against Germany and Brazil was ravaged by the withdrawals of six players, while Danny Drinkwater informed the England manager he could not answer an SOS while he recovers from a calf injury.
Brazil have had no such problems as they prepare for tonight’s friendly at Wembley and have Philippe Coutinho available, despite the fact he has missed Liverpool’s past three games because of a thigh injury. Southgate does not want his players to go souvenir-hunting for the shirts of Coutinho and Neymar, and believes his kids are good enough to keep out older rivals.
England have been buoyed by the impact made by Ruben Loftuscheek and Jordan Pickford against Germany, while the likes of Joe Gomez and Tammy Abraham have fitted in well.
Southgate promoted two of England’s Under-20 World Cup winners, Dominic Solanke and Lewis Cook, along with 21-year-old goalkeeper Angus Gunn, to replace the injured Jack Butland, to his squad.
Asked whether players would now be forced to reconsider dropping out of friendlies for fear of losing their places, Southgate replied: “Yes, that’s what you want to get to as a team – that the competition for places is so intense. Coutinho hasn’t played for a few weeks for Liverpool, but he is there for Brazil. I imagine part of that is because he is thinking, ‘If I’m not there and I’m not playing and someone else goes in, do I get the shirt back?’
“Maybe we haven’t had that but, I think moving forward, we will have and I think that will affect people’s approach, definitely.”
Southgate reiterated that the young players were not just along for the ride, when questioned on whether he would ultimately be forced to turn back to England’s older heads when he selected his World Cup squad. “I don’t see me coaxing anyone out of retirement,” said Southgate. “I will go with what I think is the best squad. At the moment, I believe the best would ingest clude a lot these young players. It’s easy to be swayed at times by needing experience, but you can have 100 experiences of the same thing or 10 different experiences that make you a more rounded person. These young players have also had experience of winning youth tournaments, playing high-level matches and challenges to get to where they are in their path. So, they’ve had to show some resilience of their own.
“We’d love to have a team full of players who have won the Champions League, but we haven’t got that. I want players who will be fearless, prepared to have the ball and show what they are capable of on the big- stage.” Southgate realises that his long-term thinking could backfire if England flop in Russia, but insists he is putting the country ahead of his own job security.
“You’ll always be judged on a tournament, but you make the decisions that are right for the team or club you’re managing,” said Southgate. “Not everybody might work that way, but the reason I came into the FA was because I care about young English players and England. I believe in the cause.”
And he added: “If you’re a manager and you worry about that [results in the short term] it inhibits your decisions. You can becomerisk averse and there’s a danger you can forget about trying to win, and try not to lose.”
As part of his desire to instill belief into his players, Southgate does not want tonight’s friendly to become a fight between his squad for the shirts of Brazil’s stars.
“I’ve got a wardrobe full of shirts at home and I think they’re all fullbacks, because it wasn’t high on my list of priorities to go and swap,” said Southgate.
“I used to talk to young players about this at Middlesbrough. I remember a young David Wheater, I pulled him over the coals because he bowled off with Thierry Henry’s shirt after a game and I said, ‘Where do you think that leaves you when you play him next time because you were waiting to get his shirt and it’s given him a sense of, Oh, you’re just a young one?’
“You are either going toe-to-toe with these guys or we are just here for the tour. That’s how I always felt managing against Sir Alex [Ferguson] and Jose [Mourinho], and all of those guys. We went there to win and we won a fair number of them. The manager sets the tone for that, so I’m not sitting here saying, ‘How wonderful we are playing Brazil and what a great experience for me’. It’s ‘how do we set the team up to be successful and make sure we are well prepared?’”
Next generation: Ruben Loftus-cheek shows off his close control in training
Hot water: David Wheater was told off for swapping shirts with Thierry Henry