WORLD CUP 2018

Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with South­gate, by­gones, anal­y­sis & wallchart

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FRONT PAGE - FOOT­BALL WRITER Email: leon.wob­schall@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @LeonWobYP

GARETH SOUTH­GATE be­lieves that his young Eng­land side are begin­ning to earn a place back in the af­fec­tions of the foot­balling pub­lic ahead of the na­tion’s 15th World Cup fi­nals.

Eng­land’s play­ers and coach­ing staff fly out to Rus­sia to­mor­row to be­gin prepa­ra­tions for their Group G opener with Tu­nisia in Vol­gograd next Mon­day, in­tent on pro­vid­ing some recom­pense to long-suf­fer­ing sup­port­ers af­ter two hugely dis­ap­point­ing World Cup per­for­mances in Brazil in 2014 and South Africa in 2010 – along­side the nadir of Euro 2016 elim­i­na­tion at the hands of Ice­land two sum­mers ago.

Eng­land’s much-changed squad is the youngest to rep­re­sent the na­tion at a World Cup since 1962 and con­tains just five play­ers who were part of squad four years ago Brazil in Gary Cahill, Danny Wel­beck, Jor­dan Hen­der­son, Phil Jones and Ra­heem Ster­ling.

South­gate re­mains con­fi­dent that a re­freshed and re­vamped look­ing squad, who have earned ku­dos fol­low­ing some pos­i­tive re­cent per­for­mances – al­lied to an ex­pan­sive style of pass­ing foot­ball which preaches play­ing out from the back – can con­tinue its de­vel­op­ment in Rus­sia and win more ad­mir­ers along the way.

South­gate told The York­shire Post: “At the mo­ment, it feels that we are im­prov­ing as a team and peo­ple want to see signs of that im­prove­ment all of the time.

“We are start­ing to es­tab­lish the way we want to play and I think peo­ple are warm­ing to the younger play­ers who are com­ing into the side.”

South­gate will swap the white shirt of Eng­land for an im­mac­u­lately cut navy blue suit jacket for his lat­est World Cup ap­point­ment with Tu­nisia in seven days time – some two decades on from lin­ing up against the North Africans in the Three Li­ons’ World Cup opener in Mar­seille on June 15, 1998.

That rep­re­sented South­gate’s only start in two World Cups, a com­pe­ti­tion whose majesty first en­chanted him as a child grow­ing up in the late sev­en­ties and early eight­ies.

On his deep sense of hon­our in manag­ing Eng­land at their lat­est World Cup fi­nals, Har­ro­gate­based South­gate com­mented: “I will have huge pride.

“To have the chance of play­ing for my coun­try was my only goal as a kid and to achieve that was mas­sive for me.

“I can­not say my goal was to man­age as I did not think about coach­ing un­til I was an older player.

“But once you have taken that step to lead your coun­try, it is a huge hon­our.

“I am ex­cited by it, but also I am not there (in Rus­sia) as a tourist. I am there to do a job and make sure I pre­pare the team to the best of their abil­ity.

“The World Cup is the pin­na­cle. My first mem­ory was 1978 – Eng­land had not qual­i­fied and I HEAD­ING THE RIGHT WAY: re­mem­ber all the ticker-tape in Ar­gentina.

“I re­mem­ber Scot­land ver­sus Peru and the fi­nal. But the first one I re­ally fol­lowed in terms of hav­ing the wallchart and ev­ery­thing else was 1982.

“I re­mem­ber com­ing home from school and see­ing Bryan Rob­son score against France in the first game for Eng­land. That was the first tour­na­ment where I watched all of it and you re­mem­ber the great Brazil­ian team of that era with the likes of Zico and Socrates and it was a great tour­na­ment.”

South­gate is acutely aware that Eng­land start off from a fairly low base in Rus­sia, but be­lieves the suc­cess of the Un­der-20 and Un­der-17 sides in win­ning their re­spec­tive World Cup com­pe­ti­tions last year has given the se­nior squad a grow­ing au­di­ence.

Cer­tainly no-one can ac­cuse South­gate of pick­ing the usual sus­pects ei­ther, a com­mon re­frain when Eng­land fail at tour­na­ments from sup­port­ers.

In that re­gard, South­gate should be ap­plauded, but equally he ac­knowl­edges that the bal­ance be­tween look­ing to the fu­ture and se­cur­ing progress in terms of re­sults in the here and now is a fine and del­i­cate one.

On the chal­lenge ahead, South­gate added: “Peo­ple want to see us play with style and play ex­cit­ing foot­ball. But in the end, you have got to win matches and when you are in charge of Eng­land, you have to got to hit all of those tar­gets.

“It is like be­ing at a big club. It is not enough just to win; you have got to win in a cer­tain way and there are the chal­lenges.

“But that is what we are aim­ing to do and we want to progress the team as we feel there is some good work go­ing on.

“There are also some signs of progress with the younger teams and the next few years are re­ally ex­cit­ing for Eng­land. That suc­cess will breed be­lief and when those guys come up to the se­niors, they will have played against these other (ma­jor) coun­tries and had ex­pe­ri­ences of beat­ing them, which is im­por­tant.”

Ac­cept­able im­prove­ment for Eng­land at se­nior level would be a quar­ter-fi­nal ap­pear­ance, of­fer­ing hope ahead of the next tour­na­ment in Qatar in 2022.

It re­mains to be seen how Eng­land fare in the heat of tour­na­ment bat­tle from a tac­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal per­spec­tive, but they head to Rus­sia as a happy, open and hum­ble camp and the splin­ter groups, di­vi­sions and egos preva­lent among some tour- na­ment squads of the past are thank­fully nowhere to be seen.

Given the lack of true world­class play­ers among their ranks, it is just as well. For Eng­land to achieve suc­cess, the team must be greater than the sum of their parts and the penny seems to be fi­nally drop­ping with the play­ers.

Short shrift is now given to those who lux­u­ri­ate in their own im­por­tance, with the egal­i­tar­ian na­ture of the cur­rent Eng­land squad bear­ing tes­ta­ment to the per­cep­tive work of South­gate.

South­gate added: “We are try­ing to build some­thing that we think it is im­por­tant.

“With St Ge­orge’s Park now, a lot of these lads have played to­gether at young ages and come through to­gether. In the past, you may have had sit­u­a­tions where things were a bit cliquey.

“But you do not have that with this group. They all come down for din­ner and will be sat at dif­fer­ent ta­bles and mix­ing with dif­fer­ent lads. Of course, you have some closer friends than oth­ers, but they all mill around and re­ally get on.

“That is a good start­ing point for a team. It does not mean you win; as you have to be com­fort­able enough to have a go at each other at the right time, but it is bet­ter that the lads are talk­ing about the game and are so­cial­is­ing to­gether. You look at all the teams who win things and that to­geth­er­ness is a com­mon trait.”

PIC­TURE: ADAM DAVY/PA.

Ahead of the World Cup in Rus­sia, Eng­land man­ager Gareth South­gate is con­fi­dent the na­tional team is de­vel­op­ing in a pos­i­tive way.

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