Football: Rebuilding time for Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate (facing camera) during a training session yesterday. Striker Jermain Defoe, 34, is in line to return after more than three years for today's friendly against World Cup champions Germany.
England manager Gareth Southgate (facing camera) during a training session yesterday. Striker Jermain Defoe, 34, is in line to return after more than three years for today's friendly against World Cup champions Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS

England manager establishes long-term plan as his new-look side face Germany in friendly

LONDON • After a year scarred by scandal and sporting catastrophe, Gareth Southgate will begin his attempt to steer England into calmer waters in today's friendly against Germany in Dortmund.

England began 2016 with a stirring 3-2 friendly win over Germany, but they were humiliated 2-1 by Iceland at Euro 2016, before new manager Sam Allardyce was brought down by a newspaper sting after just one game in charge.

Southgate, 46, has been left to pick up the pieces and he asserted his authority by omitting captain Wayne Rooney from his first squad, explaining that it is time for England to build for the future.

"When you're in the role temporarily, you are always thinking, 'Do I make decisions for the long term or do you just need points for the country'?" said Southgate, who initially replaced Allardyce on an interim basis but has since taken on the role on a full-time basis.

"Now there's an opportunity to put down things I think are important. We've got a clear longer-term vision of how we want to work as a group of staff, so the last few months have been about putting that into place."

Promoted from his role as England Under-21s coach, Southgate was given four games to prove himself worthy of the top job.

Results and performances were mixed as England beat Malta and Scotland in World Cup qualifying, but could only draw 0-0 in Slovenia and let a 2-0 lead slip to draw 2-2 in an end-of-year friendly with Spain.

STRATEGIC THINKING

We've got a clear longer-term vision of how we want to work as a group of staff, so the last few months have been about putting that into place.

GARETH SOUTHGATE, explaining why his painstaking groundwork will be crucial to his long-term vision for England.

But it proved a successful audition and Southgate was awarded a four-year contract in November.

His first major act was to sideline Rooney, four months after the 31-year-old had to apologise for being pictured looking the worse for wear alongside wedding guests at the England team hotel. In Rooney's absence, Southgate has indicated the captaincy will be awarded on a match-by-match basis.

Theo Walcott was another casualty, the manager explaining that the forward had not impressed him during England's recent games.

Southgate turned instead to several of his former Under-21 charges, with Southampton pair Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse awarded their first call-ups.

Injuries to strikers Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge meant 34-year-old Sunderland veteran Jermain Defoe was summoned for the first time in close to four years.

The England coach also outlined his vision for the year ahead in a presentation to the squad at England's St George's Park base on Monday.

Southgate, who is considering Gary Cahill as captain in Dortmund, replayed footage of his penalty shoot-out miss against Germany at Euro 96 as a way of proving that there is a path from fall guy to main man.

"It was a very powerful message," said midfielder Ward-Prowse.

"It is one that the Under-21s have received before, highlighting the highs and lows of a career and the ambitions that he sees for us.

"I think obviously we want to be the best in the world. If you want to win major tournaments, then you've got to become that sort of team."

England top their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Sunday's home game with Lithuania, but as Southgate will be keenly aware, the country lost faith in the national team a long time ago.

"We know the work has got to be put in and we have to make sure we've put it in on the pitch," said striker Jamie Vardy, who is expected to lead England's attack today.

"The more you keep winning, the better you will be as a team. So we are definitely going to go to Germany for a win.

"Hopefully we will get it and hopefully it will be a good performance and then move forward from that to win again."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Rebuilding time for Southgate'. Print Edition | Subscribe