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GARETH SOUTH­GATE ac­cepts there is no “Mes­siah” on hand to trans­form Eng­land into world­beat­ers in quick time but is proud his squad do not shirk the chal­lenge of turn­ing out for their coun­try.

South­gate was hon­est enough to ad­mit the side he man­ages do not have the pedi­gree to match the likes of Spain, who thrashed Italy 3-0 on Satur­day, but sug­gested they were more com­mit­ted than some of his for­mer in­ter­na­tional team-mates, who ‘ducked’ their duty.

The ques­tion of pride in the shirt has resur­faced fol­low­ing a laboured per­for­mance against Malta on Fri­day, when a 4-0 score­line was bur­nished by three goals in the last five min­utes.

South­gate has seen and heard it all be­fore, go­ing back to his own play­ing days, and was happy to con­front some awk­ward truths ahead of tonight’s po­ten­tially de­ci­sive World Cup qual­i­fier against Slo­vakia.

Asked if his side were ca­pa­ble of match­ing the Span­ish per­for­mance in Madrid, he said: “No. How could we pos­si­bly com­pare our­selves to a team who have Champions League win­ners through­out, have a World Cup win and a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship un­der their belt? We’re a work in progress.

“If we’re look­ing for some sort of Mes­siah to change things, I don’t think that’s re­al­is­tic.

“We have some ex­cit­ing young play­ers who can be re­ally good go­ing for­ward, but will have to go through some of the hard­ships those Spa­niards had to get through to get where they are.”

He was even more blunt on whether other top na­tions han­dled the pres­sure and pub­lic scru­tiny of the in­ter­na­tional game bet­ter than Eng­land ap­pear to.

“Maybe they’ve had bet­ter play­ers over the years,” he of­fered.

Al­though aware of a pos­si­ble gap in qual­ity, South­gate is at least re­as­sured there is no such chasm in com­mit­ment.

In stress­ing the point he also ap­peared to take aim at some who were not al­ways des­per­ate to do their in­ter­na­tional duty.

“I’ve played in teams where peo­ple were there ev­ery time, and oth­ers weren’t,” he said.

“Ab­so­lutely. That’s why some peo­ple get 50, 60 or 70 caps and oth­ers, who may be good play­ers, don’t.

“The im­por­tant ones are those who get the 70 caps.

“I guess what I’d say to the sup­port­ers is ev­ery team has new play­ers.

“What­ever your feel­ings have been about the team, can you give the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers the sup­port that any English sports team craves?

“We’re not de­mand­ing (the play­ers) are here. They want to be here. The eas­i­est thing in the world would be to pull out, but we picked 28 play­ers and 28 turned up. That’s a re­ally good sign, and it hasn’t al­ways been the case.

“It’s a shame the guys who come get stick, and the guys who duck out es­cape.”

South­gate was speak­ing on the oc­ca­sion of his 47th birth­day and, al­though there was no cake, there was also a prom­ise not to re­act with Yaya Toure lev­els of dis­ap­point­ment.

That places him much closer in age to his squad than pre­de­ces­sors such as Sam Al­lardyce, Roy Hodg­son, Fabio Capello and Sven Go­ran-Eriks­son, and his Eng­land ca­reer is re­cent enough for him to place talk of a di­vide be­tween play­ers and fans in its proper con­text.

“The no­tion the play­ers aren’t proud to play is out­ra­geous, re­ally,” he said.

“They’re un­be­liev­ably proud to play.

“It’s the same nar­ra­tive I heard when I was play­ing. I’m able to con­tex­tu­alise and ra­tio­nalise it. Ev­ery Eng­land team I played in, the lads could never quite get their heads round why that was.

“When you’re hav­ing a bad day as a player, some­times it looks as if you can’t get to things, you’re not as sharp, so peo­ple per­ceive you’re not try­ing. The eas­i­est, basest re­ac­tion is to say, ‘They don’t care’.

“More of­ten than not, play­ers have cared too much and been wrapped up in the ex­pe­ri­ence too much and not been able to give their best for that rea­son.”

South­gate, a vet­eran of the heady days of Euro ‘96, knows how im­por­tant the crowd can be in big games like tonight’s but re­alises it works both ways.

“It’s not for the fans to pull their weight – it’s for us to do that,” he added. “We don’t have the game with­out the fans. Would we rather the fans are with us? Ab­so­lutely. If we play in front of no fans, it means noth­ing.

“If we are able to in­spire ev­ery­body and ex­cite ev­ery­body, then it means every­thing.”

The no­tion the play­ers aren’t proud to play is out­ra­geous, re­ally. Gareth South­gate hits back at crit­i­cism of Eng­land play­ers over the years

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