Ledley King column: England squad far more united than in my day... and it’s down to Gareth Southgate

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Denmark are playing with togetherness and a cause bigger than football, which makes them a very dangerous opponent.

Throughout your playing career, there were occasions when you’re reminded of how much you love what you do and how important football is for other people.

And then you’re able to run a bit further, work a bit harder, do a bit more with the ball.

The whole Denmark squad have that feeling after Christian Eriksen’s collapse in their opening game and that’s an extremely powerful motivator.

The adversity of dealing with Christian’s situation has brought them all together and they’re a team playing without fear, giving everything for each other.

They owe it to each other and owe it to Christian to give it all they’ve got again tonight.

I’ve always felt with England that players coming together — especially at major tournaments — could make the difference and there’s also a unity in Gareth Southgate’s squad.

We’ve seen in the past how lesser nations go through tournaments largely on spirit and togetherness alone and, when the top teams have that, it makes them very, very difficult to beat.

To be honest, that unity is very different to the way it was in my time, with the last Golden Generation.

You can see the current players are good friends and they obviously communicate between England camps.

The distance between the players in my era has been well-documented but we weren’t conscious of it being a problem at the time.

It was just an old-school environment. We didn’t get too close to our rivals.

It’s always going to be normal to be closest to your club-mates when you meet up with England but within our group there wasn’t enough mixing or camaraderie and it cost us.

I grew up with Ashley Cole and whenever we met up with England we were close again. But our relationship suffered when we weren’t playing for England. We weren’t communicating in the same the way and that was down to our club rivalry.

The lads today have found a way to do that while playing for their clubs. They have that capacity to turn their rivalry on and off, without losing their edge. The spat between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez on England duty in November 2019 show they haven’t lost their competitive spirit.

There are many different reasons for the cultural shift but Southgate is a big one. He has created that environment, and he deserves as much credit for changing the culture of the squad than anything they have achieved on the pitch so far.

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You can see it in other aspects, too, like the squad’s relationship with the media. During my time, we tended to be guarded about what we said. It became a problem, going on the pitch knowing criticism would come our way if we didn’t perform.

It was extra pressure and having your guard up doesn’t allow you to express yourself and play your best football.

Gareth has changed that. He is a young manager, in tune with players’ psyche, as well as societal issues.

The players relate to him. It makes him the perfect man for the job.

The pressure is on England tonight, they’re the favourites to win the game, they’re at home. But these are moments, as a player, you love to be involved in.

Gareth and the staff will be doing their best to take the pressure off, to downplay the occasion and the history and make sure they treat it as just another game.

They’re a group of England players who can make every one proud and that’s what you want from your national team.

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