Gareth Southgate‘s England has a bizarrely positive, grounded feel about it these days, and much of that belief centers around the 47-year-old manager’s refreshingly honest nature of management and speaking to the press.
While there were serious questions raised over whether or not Southgate truly wanted the job, at least at the time he was put in charge, it would appear his presence has provided the Three Lions that much-needed healthy dose of reality and grounding. Take, for example, his comments on Thursday, in which he bemoans the lack of (fit) options available to him, and does everything but name names in saying, “I’ve had to call in players that don’t belong here right now” — quotes from the Guardian:
“It’s frustrating because the biggest story here is we have about 12 players missing with injury. It’s incredible. If you were to say, ‘Am I entirely happy with the squad I’ve named?’ then no, because we’ve got too many good players missing with injury. And the consequence of that, you could well argue, is that there are one or two in the squad who haven’t necessarily warranted it on their performances.”
“The reality is that I don’t want players to be comfortable,” he said. “The danger when you don’t have competition for places is twofold. What’s the level needed to get in the squad? And is everyone fulfilling that at the moment? Well, I’m not so sure they are.
“There’s been a couple of easy decisions because I haven’t had to make any phone calls [to players who might feel hard done by]. They are always difficult phone calls to make but I’d rather be making them. After that, we come into training and it’s: ‘Am I a shoo-in to get in the team or do I have to push a bit harder because I have a couple snapping at my heels?’ There’s a good challenge for those players in the next week if they want to stay in the squad.
Even without the full complement of players he’d have preferred to call into camp for next week’s final pair of World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania, Southgate still has the in-form likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli to fall back upon as England need just two more points to secure automatic qualification to next summer’s tournament in Russia. The vibe around England feels, at least from afar, to be better at present than it has done in a long, long time, especially at any point being nine months ahead of a major international tournament.