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Gareth Southgate believes there is a “winning edge” within England’s core which can drive them to Euros glory.
Southgate says the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire have stepped up to become leaders within the squad.
England now have a set of players who have unrivalled experience among the four semi-finalists when it comes to success, trophies and playing big Champions League matches.
Sterling has been England’s star of the tournament and has a winning mentality at Manchester City, the same for Liverpool captain Henderson while Kane leads by example and Maguire is another big voice in the dressing room.
But that inner belief also spreads to England’s younger players as Southgate says the likes of Jude Bellingham. Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount are all learning from shared experiences which will serve them well in the biggest games of their lives.
Henderson celebrates scoring his first England goal against Ukraine
England will never have a better opportunity to end 55 years of hurt, to deliver the first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup and Southgate insists the challenges of the last year has made everyone stronger.
“Our group is ready to get to the next step – they are excited by that challenge,” said Southgate. “They have got a mixture of being able to make themselves, I feel, relatable to the public, but they have got an edge.
“They don't get through the last few weeks and the challenges that they have had and the challenges they have got through in the last 12 months as a team without having an edge or that mental toughness as well.
“Within in any team there’s a core group that drives the team and I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of that.
“I’ve talked before about young players that come in and have high ambition and they want to win and they want to do well.
Henderson was mobbed by teammates after finally breaking his international duck
(Image: The FA via Getty Images)
“But there’s a bond between groups that forms over a period of time where you know when challenges are made, when there’s a need to dig in, when things are happening around the camp and that core group is really important.
“The lads who were with us in Russia, they’ve been through these experiences together that they pass on to the younger group as well and the newer group and they take the lead from the tribal elders, if you like, so I think it is key. It’s not just about talent.
“Team building is about so much more than that. Relationships and strength of those bonds. That group is so important.”
Southgate set the tone three years ago in Russia by picking a squad which would get on well, not be split by cliques of the past but have a real dressing room dynamic to keep a harmonious dressing room.
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It has been the same this time as sometimes relationships are just as important as raw talent because egos or petty rows can undermine everything.
That has been highlighted by Henderson who, by rights, should be a starter for England but has never once complained about being a bit-part player, a substitute or just part of the squad after an injury disrupted season for Liverpool.
Henderson’s popularity and influence within the squad was highlighted when he broke his duck and scored his first goal for England and it was teenage midfield star Bellingham who raced over to celebrate with him. The new, younger generation have seamlessly slotted into the group.
“We talked a lot in the autumn about how that group had allowed a younger group to come in and have a profile because of the team, based on the hard work of those who had gone before,” said Southgate.
“I think the newer players recognise that and they appreciate the way those older guys have made them feel welcome. I loved some of the reaction on the bench when Hendo scored because you could see the younger players were totally delighted for him.
“There’s a lovely moment with Jude, that shows you what Hendo brings to our environment that the players were so pleased for him. We all were. He’s really accepted that this was going to be a difficult and different challenge but he’s totally thrown himself into it.”
That togetherness, the mentality and unity is what drove England in Russia three years ago. And it is why Southgate believes they can go one step further this time.