Gareth Southgate has said his players should enjoy a celebration if they do clinch Euro 2020 qualification with victory away to Czech Republic on Friday, arguing that such feats should “never be taken for granted”.
The England manager pointed to the “flat” aftermath when they qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Lithuania this time two years ago, in contrast to countries like Portugal and even world champions France.
“I always like to remind the players that sometimes, the tournament seems so far away, but it’s the opportunity to qualify.
“The fact that we’ve got three matches at Wembley in the group stage is hugely exciting, so to qualify for any major tournament is a big deal, and just because to this point we’ve made that look comfortable, we should never take it for granted.
“I can remember the last time we qualified for the World Cup, it was very flat and then we were watching France and Portugal celebrate, it seemed very strange. So, I let them all have a drink in Lithuania and we got on with it.
“I think let’s see how we go. You’ve always got to enjoy any wins. One of the difficulties of the job is, again, we were talking about post-Kosovo, we weren’t very happy. So, you win 5-3, I’m miserable for a month! They get another game two days later. But, that’s the standard we’ve set. So, we have expectations of ourselves, and we don’t expect to be doing laps of honour for qualifying. But equally, it’s a step on the road and it’s something that you should enjoy. So, we’ve got to do it first.”
Southgate said it reflects how exciting the job has become.
“Well, I’m enjoying the development of the team and the players because we’re seeing… I think we’ve been able to encourage a different style for them. It was very difficult to take over and rebuild the confidence of the team from a really difficult European Championship and World Cup.
“So, I don’t think the team was in a confident place when we took over. Two changes of coaches in a very quick period of time. [I] needed to get to know more of the senior players better and now, of course, the majority of the squad we’ve worked with for a long period of time at junior and senior level, so we know what’s possible, we know the potential; they excite us, their application every day is top and they want to drive those standards themselves as well, so that’s definitely more enjoyable.
“It’s always been one of the best jobs going in football because you’re manager of your own country. There can be no bigger thrill and honour than that. Worldwide, England have always been one of the most respected football nations.
“I don’t think anybody has ever looked at it and said it isn’t an incredible job. I think what we’ve tried to do is enjoy it, and try and change the emphasis for the players so that they can enjoy it, that the shirt is one to be worn with pride but one that they feel they can really go and express themselves in,and not a burden.
“So, I think you’ve just got to attack challenges like that and, as you say, long term for England – whoever’s in charge – because these guys who are 18, 19, I’m unlikely to see all of their career out. English football, young players coming through, looks in a healthy state, but Raheem [Sterling] made the point in there: it’s only when we deliver, it’s only when the players deliver on big stages that we can really say that.
“So, there’s lots of good potential, we’ve won youth tournaments, which is a real positive step and good for the mentality of the players. But you have to constantly deliver.”
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