Gareth Southgate keen to avoid any unwanted distractions ahead of Euro 2020

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Jonathan Veal, PA
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Gareth Southgate has warned his England players not to derail their Euro 2020 hopes by misbehaving on or off the pitch.

Southgate, who is part of the Football Association’s Respect campaign in association with Nationwide, saw the Three Lions’ UEFA Nations League hopes go up in smoke in the autumn after a string of disciplinary issues.

Defender Harry Maguire was arrested while on holiday in Greece that made him unavailable for two matches, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood broke coronavirus rules while on England duty in Iceland and were subsequently sent home and Maguire was then sent off in a home defeat to Denmark.

With the European Championship less than two months away, and all of England home games at Wembley, Southgate wants to be able to prepare for the matches without any drama and have his best players available.

“We’ve had issues in the autumn. That’s always very difficult for coaches to deal with. It puts you in really difficult positions,” Southgate said after meeting Tina Jacobs and Dan Weston – the first two winners of the Nationwide Mutual Respect Award.

“I can only compare that with March where we came in with no dramas coming into the camp. It’s just a much better environment to prepare for football.

“We were only having to make football decisions, prepare the team, talk about football topics.

“I think for any coaching staff and any team, when we went into the World Cup in Russia we had minimal distractions going into it.

“That’s something I talked to the players about after the autumn. In the autumn discipline off the pitch and on the pitch created really the biggest issues for us and meant we didn’t get to the semi-finals of the Nations League that we were desperate to be in.

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“It still annoys me when I look at that line-up – Italy, Spain, Belgium, France. It’s a brilliant line-up and games you want to be involved in.

“One of the key areas was that we didn’t have availability of players at certain times for on and off the field misdemeanours.

“Coming into the summer we’ve got to make sure we arrive into the camp giving ourselves the best chance to focus on football and that helps to create a calmer environment for everybody to go into the tournament.”

If Southgate can ensure a trouble-free camp then he believes his side have a shot at “history” in their bid to win the Euros for the first time as they try and ride on the wave of a euphoric home support, who are beginning to enjoy life again after months of coronavirus lockdown.

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The 50-year-old is not feeling the burden of expectation and said: “I feel as if over the last two or three years, the team has become relevant to people again, and people are excited about the players. One day I’ll be doing a job that nobody will be bothered about the outcome, and that will be a pretty dull existence, whereas here we’ve got the chance to make some history.

“We’ve never been to a European final, with England, only one semi-final, so our record compared to lots of nations we perceive ourselves to be bigger than is actually not good in this competition. So if people are excited, and have hope, that’s brilliant, and given what we’ve all been through, I don’t think we should be dampening that. People will ask what does success look like, that’s always judged in the end on the level of performances.

“Our players wouldn’t want to hear anything other than we’re there to try and win. There’s no point in going into the competition with any other mindset really, so we recognise we and the team have still got steps to take, and improvements to make, but that has to be our ambition.”

Southgate surprised Jacobs, who is a volunteer football coach for 150 disabled children in Hampshire, and Weston, a junior football coach in Sussex, after they were recognised by the Respect campaign.

Tina Jacobs and Dan Weston are the winners of the first Nationwide Mutual Respect Award
Tina Jacobs and Dan Weston are the winners of the first Nationwide Mutual Respect Award (Eddie Keogh/The FA)

The England manager added: “What strikes you is that we’re all aware grassroots clubs and grassroots sport everywhere has been so dramatically hit and that’s not just an impact on kids and their ability to go and exercise and keep healthy, that’s community connections that have been missing and people have had to find ways of navigating that in their own communities.

“I recognise it’s not me it’s the role I’m in and the position I’m in can have an impact in certain areas. If we’re supportive at the highest end, in terms of the national team, then ultimately every player that plays for us started at a grassroots club and everything should filter from bottom to top, top to bottom in that regard.

“We often think about grassroots football as the vehicle for finding the next Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, whoever it might be, but the reality is it’s so much bigger than that. Most kids just want to play and have fun. They want to be with their friends. They want to get away from schoolwork that they’ve been ploughing through all week and get out and have exercise and enjoyment.”

:: Nationwide & The FA has pledged to ensure that one million parents and coaches engage with The FA Respect campaign over the next three years. The Nationwide Mutual Respect Award, as part of The Football Association’s Respect Campaign, aims to help make grassroots football more respectful and positive.