Gareth Southgate ready to deliver ‘firm leadership’ to England

Gareth Southgate knows he has to help England’s players control their emotions during the twists and turns of their “rollercoaster” bid to win a first ever European Championship.

Among the favourites to go all the way in Germany this summer, they have opened the finals with a narrow win and an underwhelming draw, just as they did three years ago.

England went on to reach a first Euros final and suffered a heart-breaking shootout defeat to Italy, but the current feeling around the national team is lower than at the same point in 2021.

Sunday’s performance in the 1-0 win against Serbia raised concerns that were exacerbated against Denmark, with the team struggling across the board and booed by fans following the 1-1 draw in Frankfurt.

Boos greeted the final whistle as England drew 1-1 with Denmark
Boos greeted the final whistle as England drew 1-1 with Denmark (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“I am seeing every day that they are loving working together,” Southgate said. “I don’t think it is a lack of spark.

“At the moment, they ironically care too much and they need firm leadership at this time, in my opinion.

“We have to guide through the difficult period that is coming but really stay on track and focused on this challenge ahead.

“We are trying to do something that has never been done before. So that is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster.

“It’s not going to go smoothly when you are trying to achieve extraordinary things. They are bloody difficult.

“So, we have to accept the level of expectations, we have to accept the arena we are in. And we have to find a better way of playing to how we have so far.”

Quizzed on his repeated comments that England players “care too much”, he said: “Well, there can be no suggestion that they are not trying.

“They are running, they are giving everything, but at the moment the emotion and the way we are playing isn’t calm in the moments we need it to be.

England stumbled throughout Thursday's 1-1 draw against Denmark
England stumbled throughout Thursday’s 1-1 draw against Denmark (Adam Davy/PA)

“To go to the stages of the competition that we want to end up in, that has to be better. We know that.”

Despite the sense of concern around the displays, England head into Tuesday evening’s final Group C game against Slovenia in Cologne top of the pool.

Their four-point haul will likely be enough to qualify as, at worst, a third-placed side, but the focus is on winning the Euros rather than limping through to the knockout phase.

Southgate’s side are intent on following the Lionesses by becoming European champions and making history as the first England men’s team to win the continental crown.

Asked how big a challenge he is facing, the England boss said: “The challenge is to do something that’s never been done before, so it couldn’t be any bigger.

“We know that we’ve had a lot of issues to deal with in the lead into that, but we are where we are now and we have to find the best way forward, so that’s the responsibility I have.

“I’ve got to lead the group in the right way, make intelligent decisions to find the best balance, to find more of a threat with what we’re delivering with the ball and to be better without the ball so that we’re not needing to defend for the long periods of the game that we are at the moment.”

Fitness has been the main headache Southgate has had to contend with around these finals, with absentees compounded by the physical condition of others.

The latter consideration played a part in his decision to take off captain Harry Kane in the second half on Thursday as the Bayern Munich striker missed the end of the season with a back injury.

Southgate confirmed his skipper is injury free having replaced him, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden with Jarrod Bowen, Eberechi Eze and Ollie Watkins as the match entered the final 20 minutes.

“We just felt our front line put a lot of work into the game the other day,” said the England manager, who will “look at everything” as they he seeks an improvement.

England skipper Harry Kane was replaced by Ollie Watkins as part of a bold trip change
England skipper Harry Kane was replaced by Ollie Watkins against Denmark (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“(Kane) has only had one 90 minutes in the last five or six weeks, so the other night took a lot out of him.

“We could have stayed with it, but we thought to get speed in the front line at that moment, to get energy to be able to press, was important.

“So that was the decision we took with all of the substitutes basically.”

Cole Palmer has yet to make an appearance at the Euros
Cole Palmer has yet to make an appearance at the Euros (Mike Egerton/PA)

Those changes will continue to be discussed in the aftermath, so too the decision to leave Cole Palmer on the bench.

The Chelsea player ended the campaign in top form but has yet to play a minute at the Euros.

Asked if Palmer has been dealing with an injury, Southgate said: “No, but the other guys have been training exceptionally well. Cole has as well.

“We decided to go with probably a little bit more speed against their back line as the game wore on, but Cole we know can have an impact in these games as well.”