A quiet revolution

By Pete Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/15 22:08:40

Southgate and his England squad cut from the same cloth

England striker Wayne Rooney reacts during a training session at St George's Park in Burton upon Trent, England on Wednesday. Photo: VCG

"I'm not trying to build a new England," sang Kirsty MacColl in her 1980s hit song "New England." That is not something that Gareth Southgate can sing if his current England squad have a team bonding night at the KTV.

In his time as England boss, Southgate has changed so much, not least the public and press perception of what a team wearing the Three Lions is capable of after his run to the World Cup semifinals in Russia in the summer.

The feel-good factor has not diminished as the days have shortened. If anything the belief that even better days lie ahead has increased. Beating Spain away added hope that they can finish top of their UEFA Nations League group, which can be reinforced by beating Croatia at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.

A new way

The World Cup runners-up were the team that beat England in the semifinals and victory over them will be seen as further proof that Southgate's way is working.

One of the things that the England boss, who was previously boss of the nation's under-21 side, was committed to was blooding young players in the national side. This was complemented by a commitment to picking players on form rather than reputation. This has meant good news for players such as Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger, Derby County loanee Mason Mount and Leicester City's James Maddison who have earned their first call-ups in the months following the World Cup. 

Careers over

Southgate's time in charge has also meant the end of the international careers for many of the mainstays of the England setup for the years leading up to Southgate's quiet revolution, as Joe Hart, Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill found out.

England's record scorer Wayne Rooney was another player to be forced out. The striker had seen his powers seemingly on the wane as he found himself left out of the side at Manchester United and was dropped by Southgate as he was not playing. Combined with the arrival of Harry Kane on the England scene it appeared his days were numbered.

It was less than a year after he was dropped for England's World Cup qualifier against Slovenia that he called time on his England career. He rejected an August 2017 call-up from Southgate with the then Everton striker instead announcing his retirement from international soccer with 53 goals in 119 appearances.

But we know that was not the end.

Final farewell

The 33-year-old was given a final outing in England's Thursday friendly with the USA. The Wembley runout was a fitting farewell for a player who has experienced an Indian summer playing for DC United in the MLS. This 120th England appearance makes him the outfield player with the most caps, the first of which was earned as a 17-year-old at Everton. A lifetime later, he brings the curtain down on his international career.

It was an unusually sentimental move and one that triggered much debate. It perhaps should not have. It is something that the Netherlands did for Wesley Sneijder in September. The midfield schemer played against Peru and then settled down with his family on a sofa in the center circle of the Amsterdam Arena to watch his career highlights.

Germany's Lukas Podolski signed off from international soccer with a goal against England in his 130th and final appearance. The striker left the pitch to the theme from the film Gladiator ­and was carried on a lap of honor by teammates. 

Personal experience

It is not something England have a history of doing - at least not successfully. It was something that England had offered to David Beckham in 2010, an offer that the midfielder rejected on the basis that he did not want to be in the England squad if it was not on merit. He had been declared too old at 35 by then boss Fabio Capello and dropped from the team.

Southgate will have seen this firsthand in his own England career. The star of Euro 96 under Terry Venables, Paul Gascoigne was dropped from the France 98 squad by Glenn Hoddle and the 31-year-old never played for his country again. There was absolutely no sentiment in that.

Many former players stated their belief that Rooney's return somehow devalued an England call-up or put a spanner in the works of their preparations for playing Croatia in the Nations League. Southgate called England a "strange country" because of the reaction ahead of Rooney's recall, but the manager is his own man and so it seems are his players.

Squad strength

The manager revealed that the senior players called for Rooney to be given the No.10 shirt and the captain's armband he wore so often over the last 16 years for his Wembley swan song. Southgate told the pre-match press conference that Kane had told him it would not be right for "him to come on wearing a shirt he hasn't worn before."

Southgate also revealed that the discussions had shown that the squad is cut from the same cloth as their manager.

"What did strike a chord with me in the discussions was one of the comments: 'We've talked about doing things our own way. We can do things our own way.' Some things may work, others may not. But we are going to stick to that principle."

This is a new England indeed.


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