England manager Gareth Southgate has declared that he will not attempt to coax dual nationality players to turn out for the country, insisting in what is a shift from his predecessor Sam Allardyce’s position that future internationals must actively want to wear the Three Lions jersey.
Allardyce checked out the availability of Steven Nzonzi, the French-born former Stoke and Blackburn midfielder who is flourishing at Sevilla, and the loss of Wilfried Zaha to Ivory Coast saw the Crystal Palace player score an outstanding individual goal for the African nation at the weekend.
But Southgate’s discussions of England since becoming permanent manager have included several references to players needing to feel pride in the nation and he insisted that he should not have to persuade anyone of the merits of running out for his side, despite the contribution that Celtic’s 20-year-old Moussa Dembele could also make.
“In the end I have to focus on players who are desperate to play for England,” Southgate said. “I’m not aware those sorts of players (Nzonzi and Dembele) are wanting to play for England or not really.
“For me it’s different to a club. If you feel that internal 100 per cent passion for playing for England, then I’m not sure it’s for me to sell that to you. It should be your desire to do it. Although I’m always willing to sit down with players, it should be them coming to us.
“I don’t think it’s the same as a club where you’re trying to sell the benefits of the club and you’re competing against (other clubs). I get that we are competing against other countries and players want to feel valued at all times. But the inherent desire of wanting to play for your country is the most important thing if you want to be successful.
“I didn't get capped until I was 25 and I had no interest in playing for anyone else. I’m English and proud to be English and I think part of your identity as a national team has to be pride in the shirt. So for me the commitment has to come from the player.”
Southgate made an attempt to discuss Zaha’s England future one of his first tasks on being appointed permanent manager, visiting him in Crystal Palace’s team hotel before the team’s match at Hull City in mid-December.
It is understood the picture may have been complicated by the fact that Zaha and Jordan Henderson had a falling out while with England’s under-21s and Zaha felt that Southgate took the Liverpool player's side in the argument. Zaha is understood to have felt that his face did not fit in the England set-up.
Southgate said he was not surprised that their talk still left Zaha concluding that his future lay with the Ivorians. “No, because I think the Ivory Coast had been talking to him and his family for a long period of time and obviously it had been a couple of years that he had been out of the England fold. We hoped to have him as an option for us but there’s nothing we could do about it.
“I saw him at Burnley when he was okay in the first half and very good in the second. But I didn't really appreciate there was this disappearing egg timer on going to the Ivory Coast. I didn’t want to pick him just because there was a chance that [he] might [play for Ivory Coast.] happen. But first opportunity I had as permanent manager I did go and speak to him.”