Gareth Southgate has paid tribute to the Football Association for adopting his long-term vision for England’s future, as the national manager, fresh from steering his young side to fourth place at the World Cup, targets the next stage of his team’s development.
England returned to Birmingham on Sunday having emulated their best finish at a tournament on foreign soil. Southgate intends to attend meetings at St George’s Park this week as preparations begin for the start of the Uefa Nations League campaign in the autumn – England host Spain at Wembley on 8 September – with the manager acknowledging new players will be integrated into the set-up.
He cited the support he received from the FA over the past year as key, with Southgate having been able to assemble his own extensive backroom and support staff and put his faith in youth. “If I look back, probably a year, I had a long discussion with our board about what we wanted to do with the team, how we wanted to evolve,” Southgate said. “And they were brilliant. They didn’t put me under pressure to try to achieve a certain performance, or a certain outcome, but they were keen that we showed signs of progress and improvement.
“They were happy to back my thoughts about putting some younger players in, and support that decision. So if I think back to that conversation, the last seven weeks have been exactly what we hoped they would be in terms of the improvement in the team, and the experiences for the younger group of players. They will be buoyed by the positive experiences, of which there have been many. But equally we know, we are under no illusions, about where we sit in the world standings.
“So the defeats have been hugely important for our development as well. We finished in the top four, deservedly in this tournament, helped by the draw. But we’re not a top-four team yet, and we know that. So it’s nice that we’ve got the enthusiasm and the encouragement from the tournament, the belief from some of the experiences we’ve been through, and that allows us now to go back and to identify exactly what we need to do. And for the players to reflect on that as well.”
There will be changes in personnel, with players such as Ryan Sessegnon, Joe Gomez and Alfie Mawson likely to be under consideration. Southgate suggested Phil Jones, who played both games against Belgium in Russia, had a long-term future within the set-up but suggested Gary Cahill, at 32, may play less of a role after an international career that has spanned eight years, four permanent managers and 61 caps. Much may depend on whether he makes a mark under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
“Gary has a desire to still be involved, and he’s a player we really respect,” Southgate said. “His contribution to what we’ve done, in terms of how he’s been with the group, his training and everything else, has been excellent. We just have to see how he starts the season. He also knows that, generally speaking, we are looking at some other players. He doesn’t want to finish and I don’t want him to finish, either. So we’ve had a really productive and mature conversation about what happens next. And hopefully he has another brilliant season with his club.
“What we’ve done over the last year is make decisions which have been right for keeping winning in the short term but also for mid- and long-term development. Whatever happens, whoever is in charge in four, six or eight years’ time, we have to keep doing that. It can’t just be that I pick a group of players to get a result today. We’ve got to keep trying to develop, invest in some young players, try things in the games in the autumn. Again they’re going to be brilliant challenges for us and it’s the only way we can look to improve.”