Southgate lets his young guns off the leash
England boss cuts his players some slack
Gareth Southgate has given England’s players carte blanche when it comes to their downtime before World Cup preparations get under way – not that a repeat of the manager’s pre-Euro 96 trip to Magaluf seems likely.
A frantic week that started with medical assessments, big decisions and tough phone calls continued on Thursday as the Three Lions boss faced the media a day after naming his 23-man squad and five-strong stand-by list.
That bold selection was pawed over at Wembley and those entrusted with England’s success this summer – if not involved in the FA Cup or Champions League finals – are set to convene at St George’s Park on Monday.
Southgate cannot wait to meet up – but until then he does not care what they get up to, whether that be holiday destinations or drinking.
“I’m not interested in what they do over the next few days,” he said when the subject of former players joking about their previous antics was brought up.
“It’s four weeks before we have a game.
“Before Euro 96 I had three days in Magaluf with Aston Villa, so it would be a bit hypocritical to discuss what the correct preparation was.
“But I went for a run on a couple of mornings. It might have been run back home rather than run!
“There’s a danger we overfill them (players) with professionalism and doing the right thing.
“A lot of them don’t drink but some do and some need to wind down in a different way and I have a drink at times when I need one.”
Southgate is aware how players can overstep the mark, yet is keen for the squad to feel relaxed, fresh and responsible.
The dynamic will obviously change when they meet up, but they will be given time out throughout a home-based training camp and then small breaks during the World Cup.
“I don’t think they’ll feel that there’s been no freedom before we get to Russia,” Southgate said. “Environment then is a little bit different.
“Understandably we’re then not going to be travelling home. But they’ll have opportunity to see their family between games, we will give them some downtime when we’re there.”
On suggestions the squad lacked experience, he told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We’ve had a generation of hugely-experienced players who have just finished, really, in the last two to four years.
“So, what do we do? Do we go with some – with respect – journeyman professionals who are a bit older who are playing in the Premier League or do we go with younger players who we believe actually can play at the level, have the ability to improve and take England forward? Perform now and get better.
“We feel we should be looking to the latter group. OK, that means we lack some experience, but I only had five caps before Euro 96 and it was the most successful team in 25 years, you know?
“It didn’t hinder me. In fact, I was just thinking about what’s possible, which is I think the mindset that we want the players to have.”
Their base on the outskirts of St Petersburg in Repino means fans are unlikely to visit, meaning players should be able to go to the sea front, spend time with family and take in the sights.
Southgate is keen for his players to “escape the bubble” when they can, while the hotel will offer plenty of chances to socialise.
The manager confirmed there will be no phone ban imposed and social media will be allowed – “it’s good for the players to communicate with the fans,” he said – even if posting and reading messages is not always advisable.
Harry Kane, the subject of a tweet from an FA-run account poking fun at him after Tottenham’s FA Cup loss to Manchester United, is enjoying a break with his family before heading to St George’s Park, where unselected Nathaniel Chalobah will be involved as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Angus Gunn will also be with the group next week before stand-by goalkeeper Tom Heaton replaces him, while fellow back-up players James Tarkowski and Jake Livermore will also join those assured of a spot.
Costa Rica are the final official opposition, but Southgate revealed a behind-closed-doors match will be squeezed in before jetting out on June 12.
“We thought two games on the timeline was good and a game internally when we are still working at things and a bit more of a physical assessment than a normal training session,” he added. “Just among the 23.”