Daily Mail


South­gate is ex­cited, but young lions need more top-flight ac­tion

- MATT LAW­TON Chief Sports Re­porter re­ports from Dublin @Mat­t_Law­ton_DM Sports · Soccer · UEFA · England national football team · England · Croatia · Dublin · Netherlands · Holland · Wembley Stadium · Ronald Koeman · Rotterdam · Portugal national football team · Portugal · Switzerland · Porto · Futebol Clube do Porto · The Football Association · United Kingdom · Seville, Florida · Gareth Southgate · Terry Venables · Switzerland national football team

FOR a tour­na­ment that was so widely dis­missed when UEFA first mooted the idea, the Na­tions League is do­ing a re­mark­able job of cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion in Eng­land.

Af­ter the thriller of Seville came a fine per­for­mance against Croa­tia and now, af­ter yes­ter­day’s draw here in Dublin, Gareth South­gate and his side look for­ward to a first com­pet­i­tive en­counter with Hol­land since Euro 96.

A mem­ber of the Eng­land side who so im­pressed un­der the guid­ance of Terry Ven­ables at Wem­b­ley 22 years ago, South­gate yes­ter­day re­ferred to that con­test as one of his finest mo­ments on a pitch.

‘It was bril­liant — one of my best days in foot­ball, no ques­tion,’ said Eng­land’s man­ager. ‘Very of­ten when you think about those mo­ments all the colours re­main vivid in your mind. The or­ange that hat their fans added to the sta­dium and the e warm evening, the at­mos­phere and the qual­ity of the game.

‘They had some out­stand­ing play­ers and we en­joyed one of our best per­for­mances. - It was a bril­liant night to be in­volved in, one thatat has been talked about ooverer the past cou­ple of decades. I am sure the qual­ity of the match in the sum­mer will be very high as well.’

This game has the added spice of hav­ing Ronald Koe­man — in the eyes of Eng­land fans one of the vil­lains of the World Cup qual­i­fier in Rot­ter­dam in 1993 — as man­ager of the op­po­si­tion.

But as much as one could de­tect a sense of ex­cite­ment in both coaches here in Dublin, South­gate also felt it nec­es­sary to high­light the chal­lenges he will face try­ing to win the semi-fi­nal on June 6 be­fore meet­ing Por­tu­gal or Switzer­land in a bid to win the Na­tions League tro­phy in Porto three days later.

With the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal the pre­vi­ous week­end, South­gate con­ceded that he might have only ‘two proper train­ing days’ with his full squad be­fore Eng­land meet the Dutch. The de­creas­ing num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties for his play­ers in the Premier League is caus­ing him fur­ther con­cern.

At a time when the Premier League seem de­ter­mined to defy the FA’s wishes for the quota of English play­ers to be in­creased from eight to 12 in ev­ery squad of 25 in post- Brexit Bri­tain, the sta­tis­tics cer­tainly sug­gest that some kind of com­pro­mise needs to be reached. In the top flight last las week­end, the num­ber n of Eng­landl starters dipped be­low 25 per cent for the first time — those 54 play­ers amount­ing a to 24.5 per p cent and tak­ing the th av­er­age for the sea­son sea down to 29.1 per ccent. ‘ It is in­cred­i­ble,’ said SSouth­gate.tht ‘It was a 33 per cent av­er­age last sea­son and now it’s down to 29. No­body can tell me that if the play­ers are good enough, they will come through. That is not true. There are plenty of play­ers who are good enough.’

Asked if the sit­u­a­tion frus­trated him, he replied: ‘For par­ents and boys en­ter­ing acad­e­mies, the very na­ture of it is that you ex­pect op­por­tu­nity at the end.

‘I go back to pre­vi­ous tour­na­ments when we have re­viewed ev­ery­thing that has gone on in English foot­ball. Many of those things are in the right place now, but this is the miss­ing piece that ev­ery­body is keen to re­solve.

‘In terms of the quo­tas, we are in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions on those. What’s clear is that we can’t al­low the trend to con­tinue as it is be­cause at what point do we stop? Ev­ery­body saw the im­pact and the suc­cess of the na­tional team in the sum­mer.

‘While we still want a com­pet­i­tive Premier League that brings a lot of fo­cus into our coun­try as well, we need to find this miss­ing piece of de­vel­op­ment for English foot­ball.’

For now, South­gate has to con­tinue to op­er­ate in the cur­rent cir­cum­stances and plan for the Na­tions League cli­max next June. ‘The Na­tions League has been a great suc­cess,’ he said. ‘ The qual­ity of the matches for our de­vel­op­ment has been ex­cep­tional and we’re look­ing for­ward to the semi-fi­nals with four very good teams.

‘We play Hol­land, a team who are at a sim­i­lar stage to us, de­vel­op­ing a lot of ex­cit­ing young play­ers. I can see the im­pact Ronald has had on them from when we played in March, so it’s a very ex­cit­ing game to look for­ward to. I think it will be a re­ally good week of foot­ball.

‘We now know the next 12 months and that’s good for us in terms of plan­ning.

‘It’s also a strange six months in that we’ve got that time to plan for a semi-fi­nal and yet might not get some of the play­ers un­til two days be­fore it.

‘That’s al­ways the bal­ance with in­ter­na­tional foot­ball but it’s good to know ex­actly who we are play­ing and it should be a re­ally su­per game and a great at­mos­phere.’

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