Gareth Southgate says club rivalry won't harm England World Cup spirit
LONDON -- Gareth Southgate has rejected the prospect of club rivalries harming spirit within his England World Cup squad by claiming that his players "get on too well" and need to learn how to challenge each other in Russia.
Former England captain Rio Ferdinand claimed recently that tensions between Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool players during his time in the squad ultimately prevented the so-called "Golden generation" from developing the unity needed to succeed on the international stage.
However, while accepting that inter-club rivalries can prove harmful to morale, Southgate believes that his 23-man squad are more at risk of being too friendly as a group.
"It didn't happen in 1996 when we got to a semifinal, but I started to see it a little bit toward end of my time with England," Southgate said at Wembley on Thursday. "I think that would be a watch-out if we felt that, but I don't see it with this group.
"Most have grown up playing together in the junior teams and, at the moment, I don't think we have that intense rivalry between two clubs that has existed in the past. At meal times, they all sit with each other from different clubs. There's one or two who are closer than others; you rarely see Jesse (Lingard) and Marcus (Rashford) without them holding hands!"
The England team that made the last four at Euro '96 under Terry Venables is a benchmark due to its quality and team spirit and Southgate admits that he wants his squad to develop the same strengths. Southgate wants his players to challenge and be accountable each other.
"They get on and that's a start point, but at times I think they get on too well," he said. "The next stage, as a team, is they get on that well that they start to pull each other, raise standards of how we train, get hold of each other on the pitch. Just getting on isn't enough. We've got to go deeper than that."
"It is one of the things that makes a winning team. That they are comfortable enough with each other and close enough to each other so that when you have those conversations it is not held against you. You move on quickly from it. It is recognised as trying to get the best out of each other. And unless you are close, it is difficult to have that conversation because you don't know how the guy next to you is going to react and you don't know how to get the best out of him necessarily."
Southgate cited a desire to have players talk and "not just sat at dinner on their phone."
"The more they are talking and interacting opens up the chance to have deep conversations on what it means to them, how they like to be treated and so they need to get on well but they should not to be afraid of upsetting each other at times," he said. "That is the key. They have to be brave enough to have conversations that need to be had at certain times."
The England manager, meanwhile, claims he is unfazed by the pressure that will be applied to him and his players as the World Cup draws closer. The former Middlesbrough manager has brought a sense of realism to the national team set-up during his 18 months in charge and says that what lies ahead will not be a shock.
"We know that, don't we?" Southgate said. "We know that when we take the role. It's been a danger in more recent history thinking about what the problems might be, how it might feel if it goes wrong, but we know all of that.
"Frankly, I've dealt with it in the past. We've got to focus on what might be possible with this team. It's like leading a team into the ... if you are in the top four, your mindset is 'how do we win, how high can we go?'
"We are not a team in the relegation zone, worrying about what might happen and what we might lose, we have to have a positive mind-set of how far can we go, and there's a difference in the mentality and the feel of all that."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_