Southgate wants to broaden horizons of English game
Manager Gareth Southgate thinks English football needs to shed its island mentality and look beyond life in the Premier League if the national side is to become a success
Gareth Southgate leads the Three Lions in a friendly in Germany on Wednesday and a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania four days later, his first games since landing the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
His task is the same one which has confounded numerous predecessors, bringing success – or something close to it – to a team who have consistently disappointed at major tournaments.
And one of the challenges the 46-year-old has diagnosed is an insularity in the British game which he is keen to address.
“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. I always say being an island saved us in 1945, I’m not so sure it’s helped us ever since,” he said, in a reference that would not have sounded out of place in a Roy Hodgson press conference.
“I think we’ve got to broaden the horizons. It’s understandable, 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 (at the 2014 World Cup). I’m so used to watching the yellow ticker going round then I’m sat in Brazil 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 and think ‘God, we’ve got rid of them’. That’s how it feels to me and I don’t like it.”
Southgate’s unvarnished verdict on England’s echo chamber effect is consistent with the former Middlesbrough manager’s early days in the job.
He is clearly passionate and hopeful about the task in front of him but feels there has been a disconnect between reasonable expectation and the attendant hype machine.
One answer would be to send more homegrown players overseas.
Joe Hart’s move to Torino may not have been in his ideal career plan but Southgate feels a year in Serie A can only be a good thing and wonders whether English prospects may make similar at a younger age in future.
“Joe, as an example, has had a brilliant experience,” he said.
“He’s taken a hell of a lot from seeing another league, living abroad, broadened his horizons, recognising some of the things he had (at Manchester City) 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 guess there’s a national characteristic about that (not moving abroad) and the finance of our league isn’t going to help that, which is the reality.
“But it would be interesting. We have some younger players doing it now, Lewis Baker’s had a very good spell in Holland for example.
“Will it be common place? I don’t know. Maybe lads will have to go away to play matches because opportunities are disappearing here.”
Fair play notion
Another issue England managers frequently have to confront is the notion of fair play, and how far to push the envelope of games-manship.
Years ago such sharp practice was considered a continental trait and, if that has seemed outdated for some time, it still raised some eyebrows when French midfielder Samir Nasri accused Jamie Vardy of overacting during Leicester’s Champions League win over Sevilla.
Nasri was sent off after the pair’s collision and later advised Vardy to “play the game like a man”.
Asked for his take on events, Southgate said: “I suppose we are in that old debate about being English or being footballers who are trying to win a game.
“I’m glad Jamie didn’t go rolling around the floor, I’m sure he would not have got back into Fleetwood if he had done, but I also think Nasri fell for a three-card trick.
“I won’t be encouraging players to do it but I recognise that is part of the landscape. If we were all operating the same way but if other countries are going to play by another set of rules then we are almost penalising ourselves.
“Do I like it? No, not really but I understand it.”