Gareth Southgate

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FIFA to consider changing rankings formula

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FIFA is planning on evaluating its rankings system to keep from punishing teams who schedule more friendlies, and to keep from teams that schedule less friendlies from jumping into seeded positions for the World Cup.

Despite leading its UEFA qualification group having played eight matches unbeaten, England dropped to 13th in the latest world rankings due to narrow losses to Germany and France, both in friendlies. Manager Gareth Southgate has made his opinion on the situation public, saying he will not stop scheduling friendlies simply to help the country’s ranking.

[ UEFA roundup: England moves closer to qualification, Germany dominates ]

Meanwhile, Poland, Wales, and Switzerland have sat in seeded positions for some time. Poland has played one friendly since June of 2016, a 1-1 draw with Slovenia. Switzerland is the same. Wales hasn’t played a single friendly since last June, when European teams had a lack of competitive fixtures in the run-up to Euro 2016.

England has already scheduled Germany and Brazil as friendly fixtures in the near future, games that will be officially placed on the schedule when England officially qualifies for the 2018 World Cup, a near certainty at this point.

France is another team harmed by scheduling difficult friendlies, partly necessitated in the run-up to Euro 2016 which they hosted and therefore did not participate in qualifying. France has played five friendlies over the past calendar year, beating Italy, England, and Paraguay but also losing to Spain and drawing with the Ivory Coast. They currently sit 10th in the world despite their impressive Euro 2016 run and qualifying position that has seen them win eight competitive matches in a row.

FIFA said their review would take place once all teams had qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

Southgate defends Alli gesture as joke with Walker

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Dele Alli was caught giving the middle finger during the 77th minute of England’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia, but his manager has defended the incident as innocuous.

The 21-year-old Spurs midfielder was caught on camera displaying the rude gesture after angling for a foul on the edge of the box by Martin Skrtel, which was not given by the referee. The timing of the gesture lends credence to the theory that it was aimed towards referee Clément Turpin, but according to England boss Gareth Southgate, Alli was not directing it towards the referee, instead joking around with Kyle Walker.

“I’ve not seen it but I’ve been made aware of it,” Southgate said in his postgame media obligations. “Kyle and Dele were mucking about, and Dele’s made a gesture towards Kyle. I don’t know what the angle of the pitch is. The pair of them have a strange way of communicating, but that’s what they’ve said when it’s been raised.”

When reviewing the replay, it does appear that Walker is closely in line behind the referee, but hard to tell exactly what was intended. Alli later responded as well, posting on social media to back up the claims.

No matter the intent, Alli in all likelihood will face a fine from FIFA, and could even be considered for a suspension if the governing body feels it’s warranted. Lionel Messi was suspended four matches and fined for directing “insulting words” towards an assistant referee, but that was overturned for lack of evidence after he sat out one game.

Southgate says Kane can be as good as Messi or Ronaldo

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England head coach Gareth Southgate says Harry Kane continually compares himself to Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal tallies, and believes he can reach those heights.

The Tottenham striker scored twice in the 4-0 England win over Malta on Friday, and he has five goals in his last three international matches. That gives him eight goals in just 19 caps, a furious pace should he keep it up through the next few years.

“He’s in top form,” Southgate said of Kane ahead of England’s next qualifier against Slovakia, “but he’s also got the mentality to want to be the best. He knew this morning how many goals in games he had, and also how many Ronaldo and Messi had at this point. He’s driven to be one of the world’s best. Why can’t that happen moving forward?”

Obviously there’s a long way to go, but Kane’s current pace is just behind Ronaldo’s 78 goals in 144 caps, and nearly even with Messi’s 58 goals in 118 caps. The Telegraph points out that Kane’s total career goals are just slightly behind Ronaldo at the same age, and a good distance behind Messi at that stage. According to Southgate, Kane knows all the numbers, international and overall, and at his young age, he could have a long, productive career ahead.

“We’re still talking about a 24-year-old, so there’s still much more to come from him. Alan [Shearer] was 25/26 when he was top scorer in [Euro] 96. Harry is still in the early stages of his career, but was top-scorer in the league two years running and is in a really good place.”

Kane will also only go as far as his team will take him. In Shearer’s days, England was at the top of the world rankings and reaching the latter stages of tournaments, allowing him more games to reach milestones. In Euro 1996, Shearer was able to be top scorer because England reached the semifinals. Kane and England, meanwhile, were knocked out of Euro 2016 in the Round of 16, while Ronaldo and Portugal won the tournament, allowing Cristiano to reach 5 goals, one off Antoine Griezmann’s lead.

“You’ve got to have that drive and belief, and that’s what he’s got,” Southgate said of Kane. “He had that when we weren’t picking him in the Under-21s. He’d come and say: ‘Hold on a minute, why? What’s the rationale?’ I never minded that self-belief. He’s doing that for Spurs, and now in the biggest matches.”

Wayne Rooney’s England retirement tinged with regret

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Wayne Rooney is England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals and he played for the Three Lions 119 times, more than any other outfield player in history.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England ]

Rooney’s legacy will live on for decades but when the 31-year-old announced his international retirement on Wednesday, one sentence in his statement will likely stick in your mind.

“One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side,” Rooney said.

After 14 years of the hopes and dreams of every English fan being placed on his shoulders at major tournaments as the attacking leader of the so-called “golden generation” perhaps constant failure at the main events are the biggest reason why Rooney has decided to bow out earlier than many expected.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney hadn’t played for England since November 2016 against Scotland in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise, especially after Gareth Southgate left Rooney out of his last two England squads. There is no doubt that his powers have been waning but it appeared Rooney was set for a recall for England’s final batch of qualifiers in the next few months and the captain of the Three Lions would lead the team to Russia next summer.

Yet with less than 10 months until the 2018 World Cup, the tournament Rooney previously stated would be his last for England, why did he now feel the need to step down?

With his fine form for Everton to start this season following 12 months on the fringes at Manchester United (where he became their all-time leading goalscorer last season too) it appeared Rooney was fitter and sharper than he has been for the past four or five years. Fitness does not appear to be the issue.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a year old than Rooney. Lionel Messi is one year younger than Rooney. Like Ronaldo and Messi he has won everything he can in the domestic game, and still that is not enough. All three have the weight of their respective nations on their shoulders but now only Ronaldo and Messi are continuing to lead their nations. Yet in Messi’s case, he too walked away from the national team after they lost to Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, only to be persuaded to return soon after.

Like Rooney, Messi has yet to win a major title with his nation, but Argentina have certainly come much closer (four defeats in major finals, two on penalty kicks and one in extra time during his career with La Albiceleste) than England and Rooney every came. It appears that Rooney will not make a dramatic return for England a la Messi, but never say never.

Of course, one player cannot make a team but you can argue that the England teams Rooney was the focal point of were the greatest to never reach the semifinal of a major tournament, let alone win the damn thing.

Scoring just once in 11 World Cup games for England over three tournaments, Rooney’s finest moments in tournament play came in his first major competition: EURO 2004. In Portugal a young, bullish, teenage Rooney scored twice against Croatia and led England to the quarterfinals before he broke a dreaded metatarsal and England, as they would in the next two tournaments, lost on penalty kicks to Portugal in the quarters.

After that flurry of four goals and an assist in his first four tournament games, Rooney would go on to score just three goals from 47 shots in his next 17 games in major competitions.

More misery in major tournaments arrived as he snapped in the 2006 World Cup quarters, being sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, then responded to England fans booing the team in South Africa in 2010 by ranting into TV cameras about their criticism. Rooney was banned for the opening two games of EURO 2012 and returned only for England to exit in the quarterfinals, again, this time to Italy. He finally scored at a World Cup in 2014 but England crashed out at the group stage and he then captained England at EURO 2016 but they bowed out in embarrassing fashion to Iceland in the Round of 16.

That, somewhat poetically, was to be his last appearance for England at a major tournament.

There’s no doubting that Rooney was the most talented striker England ever possessed with his ability to score sublime goals and create chances for his teammates. Yet, the greatest players on the planet are always judged by what they won on their international stage, mostly by dragging the team around them to new levels.

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil. Diego Maradona won one with Argentina. Ronaldo has won a European Championship with Portugal. Rooney won nothing.

That remains the only regret in a storybook international career which saw a lad from Liverpool put on a pedestal at the age of 17 and handed the keys to a nations success.

It didn’t work out how Rooney, and everyone else, had hoped when it came to ending England’s now 51-year wait for a major trophy, but he delivered goals, guile and commitment which the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford will try to replicate in the next few decades.

Rooney’s international career will always be celebrated and his achievements are unlikely to be surpassed, but there were always be a tinge of regret he could never lead the Three Lions to international glory.

England’s Wayne Rooney retires from international action

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The highest goalscorer and most capped outfield player in England’s history has called an end to his Three Lions career.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Wayne Rooney, 31, has retired from international action and England’s captain released a statement on Wednesday, less than 10 months before the 2018 World Cup which he had previously stated would be his last tournament for England.

Rooney scored 53 goals in 119 appearances for England and scored six goals across six major tournaments, but never got past the quarterfinal stage in a major competition and hadn’t played for his national team since November 2016.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rooney’s retirement

England boss Gareth Southgate had left Rooney out of his previous two squads but the former Manchester United striker rejoined Everton this summer and started his Toffees career off by scoring in each of the opening Premier League games of the 2017-18 season.

That led Southgate to offer Rooney a way back into the national team but the striker has revealed he met with the Three Lions boss and told him about his decision to retire.

On Monday Rooney scored for Everton against Manchester City and became just the second player in history to score 200 goals in the Premier League.

Despite his recent good form and rejuvenation, Rooney has stepped aside and will now focus solely on his club play for the twilight of his career.

Below is the statement from Rooney, via the Press Association.

“It was great that Gareth Southgate called me this week to tell me he wanted me back in the England squad for the upcoming matches. I really appreciated that. However, having already thought long and hard, I told Gareth that I had now decided to retire for good from international football. It is a really tough decision and one I have discussed with my family, my manager at Everton and those closest to me.

“Playing for England has always been special to me. Every time I was selected as a player or captain was a real privilege and I thank everyone who helped me. But I believe now is the time to bow out.

“Leaving Manchester United was a tough call but I know I made the right decision in coming home to Everton. Now I want to focus all my energies on helping them be successful.

“I will always remain a passionate England fan. One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side. Hopefully the exciting players Gareth is bringing through can take that ambition further and I hope everyone will get behind the team. One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity.”