Gareth Southgate will be “realistic” with his expectations for England at the World Cup finals next summer and has called for patience as he seeks to further the development of his young side before the tournament in Russia.
The national team travel to Lithuania on Saturday for their final qualifier with progress having been secured from Group F and Southgate is expected to offer game time to some of his fringe players in Vilnius. England host Germany and Brazil in prestige friendlies next month, elite sides who will pose a very different threat from those encountered in qualification, with the manager acutely aware the team’s relationship with its support has to be rebuilt after recent uninspiring performances.
There were boos at Wembley on Thursday night, when Slovenia were eventually beaten in stoppage time, and Southgate has conceded a disconnect exists between the set-up and the fans. “We have to keep winning football matches, and the more we can play football which excites people and score goals will, of course, start to win people over,” he said. “We’ve got some good characters and personalities [in the squad] that maybe the public don’t necessarily understand fully or know properly.
“We’ve tried to be open as we can be. I think that’s really important. We’re in an era where it must be difficult for the supporters to relate to players because of what they earn and all of the hullabaloo that is around them. But these are good kids, desperate to play for England. At the moment they just need the chance to grow. My job is to support them and make sure we give them that opportunity. We’ve got a group of players who I am proud to manage because they want to pull on the England shirt, they are prepared to try and improve and, as a coach and as a manager, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Dele Alli will return on Sunday following a one-match ban and Southgate is expected to make a few tweaks to his line-up from Wembley, with Jack Butland and Jesse Lingard hopeful of involvement. The manager was asked what the side’s objectives would be going to Russia in the summer.
“Well, you’re always there to win football matches, but you also have to be thinking what is realistic as well,” he said. “The reality is we are underdogs at the moment, aren’t we?” he said. I think the reality is that’s where we are. “I don’t know how far the team can go at present. We will test ourselves in the next few months. We’ll see players develop with their clubs, different players develop with us, and let’s see how far we can go.
“I’m the manager so, of course, I take responsibility for the performance. I wouldn’t dream of it being any other way. But I also feel the players need the opportunity to grow and they need the opportunity to be backed, and to improve for the country to get behind. I go back to them picking up the consequences of decades of disappointment, and this group are nowhere near as experienced as most of those teams were. The hope is that people get behind them and give them a chance.
“We will work with the team. There are lots of things we believe we can look at – we know a certain direction we want to take the team in – but qualifying campaigns are tough. You’re trying to evolve but I’m watching all the qualifying matches from around Europe and I know what the games are like. The majority are tough, with a minimal number of goals because every team can be organised and difficult to break down.
“So we have to find a bit more creativity in our play to be able to break those teams down a bit earlier in matches and allow those games to open up a bit.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010