Gareth Southgate exposes the conceit in English football

Manager calls on his players to learn lessons from their rugby counterparts and tonight's opponents, Germany

Gareth Southgate
(Image credit: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images Sport)

Gareth Southgate says the England football team should look to their rugby counterparts if they want to taste success on the world stage.

Speaking ahead of tonight's friendly against world champions Germany, the England manager has been refreshingly candid in his assessment of where the Three Lions stand in the world rankings - some way behind the Germans - and has made it clear that will only change if English football changes its narrow outlook.

Southgate has spent time with the England rugby squad this month, learning first-hand how Australian-born coach Eddie Jones has turned his side into the dominant team in Europe, second only to New Zealand in the world rankings. It was clearly a chastening experience for Southgate, and one he will use as he looks to restore England's reputation after losing to Iceland in last year's European Championships.

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"The culture in rugby I think we can take something from," said Southgate. "They get the players to present the opposition analysis, rather than it being fed by the coach... and of course he [Jones] has a winning mentality. He is constantly asking for more. They were 18 games unbeaten and I saw his quote saying 'we are nowhere near ready to win the World Cup'. He recognized what the end looks like and what the environment needs to look like."

Wednesday's encounter in Dortmund will be Southgate's first match in charge since he was awarded the role on a permanent basis in November. That followed the sacking of Sam Allardyce, another sorry saga in a year that was arguably the most dispiriting in the history of the Three Lions.

The one bright moment was the 3-2 victory over Germany 12 months ago, a result that - even if it came in a friendly - demonstrated that there is talent in the English game, it's just how best to bring it to the fore on a consistent basis.

Southgate believes that as well as looking to the England rugby squad for inspiration, the footballers should also draw lessons from Germany. "I think what our opponents have is a consistent plan in thinking from youth level right the way through," he said. "I guess to highlight the difference they postponed the start of the Bundesliga [in August] because they got a team in the Olympics," he said. "We can't even get a team in the Olympics. So that's the collaboration they have."

Southgate also highlighted the co-operation between the DFB (the German Football Federation) and the Bundesliga as something that is sadly missing in the English game.

Although he was careful not to criticise the FA or the Premier League, the England manager alluded to the conceit that courses through the English game, from the administrators through to the coaches, players and fans. "I'm not sure we've always looked at ourselves in the mirror as closely as we should, that's what we need as a football nation," said Southgate. "We've had success in every other sport in our country."

It was an echo of his comments last week, when he said that English football had to shed its island mentality. "Players," he said, "see one league, they see Sky Sports News... they think we're the centre of the earth and we're not."

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England captain: Gareth Southgate plots future without Wayne Rooney

21 March

Injured striker skips meeting on team's new direction - so who will be his long-term replacement?

Gareth Southgate must address the issue of the England captaincy after Wayne Rooney was omitted from the squad for the friendly against Germany tomorrow night and the World Cup qualifier with Lithuania on Sunday.

The player, who is suffering from a minor knee injury, was also missing from the squad during a presentation at St George's Park in Staffordshire, in which England manager Southgate "laid out his ambitious vision of eventually turning [the team] into world champions", says Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph.

"Although it is obviously Rooney's prerogative to undergo rehabilitation – and he will argue he needs to put his recovery first – it still comes as something of a surprise that a player of his status did not attend as Southgate made his first address to the squad since being appointed manager permanently."

Of the invited players not already in the squad, only goalkeeper Jack Butland, who is out with a broken ankle, attended, says Burt.

Southgate's presentation outlined some "brutal" truths about England's recent record, says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian, who adds that the team have only won three knockout matches since 1990.

It even featured the manager's own penalty miss against Germany at Euro 96, while he talked about "the importance of overcoming serious disappointments". He "also asked his players to compare England's record with Germany's over the same timeframe".

According to Taylor, Chelsea defender Gary Cahill is expected to act as captain against German, but a long-term successor to Rooney has yet to be identified.

The problem is illustrated by a straw poll of eight football writers from The Times which threw up six different candidates: Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Joe Hart and James Ward-Prowse.

They also agreed that England's problems ran deeper than a lack of leadership. "Southgate has such a raw bunch that he may as well play musical chairs, or toss a coin between Henderson or Dier," writes Matt Dickinson.

"Sure, captaincy will be an honour for someone but what we saw against Iceland was a team suffer collective stage fright. That is not solved by handing out an armband, but a coach helping an entire squad find their self-belief."

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