Gareth Southgate has issued a stark challenge to England’s footballers and the English game to change their approach towards international football or face becoming ever more of an irrelevance on the world stage.
In one of the most outspoken assessments by an England manager in recent times, Southgate said he believed the narrow-mindedness of the English game, and a mistaken belief that the Premier League put it at the centre of the world, had contributed to a dismal failure in tournament football.
Southgate’s squad convene at 6pm on Sunday evening ahead of the friendly against Germany in Dortmund on Wednesday and the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley four days later, his first games since being appointed full-time manager.
Southgate also said that he no longer wanted a high-profile team captain such as David Beckham or Wayne Rooney who “get it in the neck”, while others “can slip under the radar of responsibility and accountability”.
Southgate said: “I always say being an island saved us in 1945, I’m not so sure it’s helped us ever since. You guys travel around Europe and around the world and see those big clubs, work in those big matches and other sporting events, you have a broader perspective of it.
“Sometimes within the game we don’t do that. Joe Hart as an example has had a brilliant experience [at Torino], he’s taken a hell of a lot from seeing another league, living abroad, broadened his horizons, recognises some of the things he had that he hasn’t now got in terms of training facilities. I think he’ll come back a more mature goalkeeper and a more mature person.
“I think we’ve got to broaden the horizons because the lads see one league, they see Sky Sports News, they think we’re the centre of the earth and we’re not. That’s what hit me. I’m so used to watching the yellow ticker going round then I’m sat in Brazil [in 2014 when England were left out of a highlights montage of previous tournaments] and I’m not seeing us. It was quite a stark reality of where we are.
“Other countries are quite happy to say nice things to us and then they pack us off home at a certain stage [of a tournament] and think, ‘Good, we’ve got rid of them’. That’s how it feels to me and I don’t like it.”
There will be a meeting of the players tomorrow at St George’s Park which Rooney, left out of the current squad, will attend.
Southgate will ask the players how they see the future and ask them to take the lead in ending five decades of failure at international tournaments and a record of just three wins in knockout games in the last 27 years.
“I guess what I want to do next week is have this discussion around where we want to go and the realities of where we are,” Southgate said. “We can keep saying, ‘Oh, if only that or that little bit [had gone England’s way]’, but actually 25 years, lads? Fifty years? Is it just that little bit or do we have to look at ourselves a little more?”
Southgate was non-committal on who might succeed Rooney to the captaincy eventually, but mentioned Harry Kane and Adam Lallana as players who had impressed him, as well as noting that Raheem Sterling was inclined to speak up in meetings.
Southgate said: “We’ve got to think differently, work differently, work smarter. We’ve got to drive this forward, it can’t be a comfortable environment because if people think we’re just here to keep the players happy and just here to calmly not rock the boat, I don’t think we’re going to get a winning team. Maybe there’s going to be some uncomfortable moments, maybe there’s going to be some uncomfortable conversations for me. But I’m here to win.”