Southgate is confident players will continue to make themselves available

Credit: PA

Gareth Southgate has put himself on a collision course with Premier League clubs by insisting that he and his England players will not bow to “huge pressure” being placed on them over their involvement for the national team between now and the European Championships.

England manager Southgate claimed it is the “reality” that pressure is being applied on players by their clubs and that Premier League managers are looking to gain every possible advantage in what has become a packed schedule.

Tottenham Hotspur head coach Jose Mourinho this week laid bare his frustration with the international break by posting a sarcastic message on Instagram, while a number of managers are unhappy with the prospect of their players starting what has effectively become a dead rubber against Iceland on Wednesday night.

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But, despite sending Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling back to Liverpool and Manchester City, Southgate is in no mood to start handing out favours and is confident his England players will also continue to make themselves available.

“The players want to play for England,” said Southgate. “They are in a really difficult situation. They are under huge pressure from their clubs. That is going on in the background, for sure. That is the landscape whether it is made public or not. That is the reality. It manifests itself in different ways, but that is what happens.

“But they (the players) want to play for England. They want to get as many caps as they can. Ronaldo 150-plus caps (Sergio) Ramos 100 and however many plus. If you look at the English players of the past Frank Lampard was one you know came every time no matter what the stick, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, John Terry. You don’t get to 100 caps without putting yourself in there every time and players have that personal ambition and they want to play.

“I also have huge empathy with the club managers. We do not just have two clubs in the title race any more or three clubs – we are looking at six or seven clubs in England and there is huge pressure on every result.

“Everybody is looking to try and gain an advantage and if they feel someone else is getting an advantage, they want to make sure their voice is heard as well. So there is all of that noise in the background, but we’ve got to remember that we are competing against France, who pick all their players, Spain, who pick all their players, Portugal, who pick all their players. 

“We understand, unfortunately of course, that’s going to put us on a collision course at certain times, but I also know all of those managers in the League would do exactly the same if they were in our position. So I think there’s respect, there’s an acceptance the situation is not ideal for anybody, but I understand their world and I think they understand ours as well.”

Specifically on the subject of managers trying to influence their players, Southgate added: “Look, there’s a power game the whole time and whether that is phone calls, messages, press conferences, we know everything that goes on. I totally understand it. Everybody is inevitably going to fight their own corner. 

“There are lots of huge personalities and strong people, who are always looking for an edge or at least that nobody else gets an edge, so we’ve got to manage that. We’ve also got to be firm, in certain areas help, but there are times when we’ve also got to bear in mind that our competitors are making use of the games and building their teams, and we’ve got to do that if we’re going to keep improving. 

“Four years ago, I started thinking ‘you know I’d better be careful of that, and careful of that’. But you know what can you do if you start going down that route – ‘we have to pick one from every club and make sure we balance that’. It’s impossible. So I’ve got to do what’s right.” 

Southgate was angered by the suggestion that there is not much riding on the Iceland game because England cannot qualify for the finals of the Nations League and dismissed the theory that he could pick players, such as Tammy Abraham, simply on the basis that they are yet to start a game during this latest get-together.

“I go back to Brazil, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, that’s who we’re competing with,” said Southgate. “And if we’re going to do less, and if our commitment isn’t going to be as high, if our approach is going to be compromise all the time….I think we’ve all got to work together. The expectation here is to try to win, and there’ll be lots of areas where we’re competing against the flow, but we’ve got to make sure the bits that we can control we affirm on, not unreasonable, but firm, and fair across the board.”