We asked members of the England Supporters Club to send in their questions for Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate, here are his answers to some of the best…
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We all know Gazza liked to play tricks on other players when he was in the England squad. But who are the biggest pranksters in the current set-up? Chris Banks
Well, I’m not as involved in the dressing room so I don’t see quite as much of it as I did as a player. But I would certainly think the likes of Stones, Vardy, Dele and Jesse would be in the mix for most of that. Thankfully, I’m not on the receiving end of it anymore!
What was the most important thing you learnt from the World Cup? Keiran Trotter
There were so many different lessons for us really. One of the best things for me, was for the group to experience being out there for the whole seven matches because we now know what that took physically and mentally. One of the unique things about tournaments is that as you get more tired and deeper into the tournament, the games and level of them gets harder and harder as it becomes more important. It’s a unique environment, so for us to go through that was incredible. But there were also things that we can learn from and improve from.
Are you sticking with the waistcoat two-piece going forward? Or will you be switching to a tracksuit? Maybe even a full three-piece suit? Adrian Smith
[Laughs] Well, I didn’t have any idea when I decided not to wear my jacket because of the heat that it would end up having such an impact and become a national obsession. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It’s been funny to see the response but obviously it’s a bit colder as we get towards the autumn games, so I will dress accordingly!
After the recent success in the World Cup, what would you consider to be a realistic target for the Nations League and Euro 2020? Calum Ashworth
It’s very difficult to say. I think for us it’s important that we are competitive against every team that we play against. In the last couple of years, we haven’t managed to beat those top teams and prior to that we’ve beaten some of them in non-competitive games but then not in tournaments. So we’d like tournament success, but we’d also like to be going into tournaments highly-ranked with the knowledge that you can beat the top teams and there’s no reason that we can’t do that over the next couple of years.
Jadon Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Reece Oxford have been performing well in the Bundesliga over the last year. Would you recommend English players who are struggling to make the first team in England to try playing abroad for more experience? Richard Charlesworth
Well, I always think the foreign players who come to England need to have a high level of maturity to adapt to living in a new country and many of them already speak English. For English players going away, you’d often need to learn a new language and get used to living away from home. I believe all of those things are great life experiences and opportunities. And frankly, only 32 per cent of our top league is made up of English players and some of those have already retired from England duty, so for some of our young players to get a chance to play, they’re starting to recognise that they’re going to have to go abroad. I think it’s brave of them and I commend them for doing it, as they’ll be better players and better people for the experience.
The last time we reached a World Cup semi-final we struggled for form for the next four years. What is your strategy to ensure England’s form continues for the next four years? Stuart Franklin
It’s a very good point and one that I’ve thought about. We have a choice now, we can either be a team like Germany or France. France lost the Euro 2016 final at home two years ago, but they got stronger from it and won the World Cup. Germany had semi-finals and finals in which they lost before they were able to win the World Cup. We want to be a country who are constantly in those last-four situations. That’s a part of our strategy at St. George’s Park with our junior teams, to keep being involved in the games that matter. Aside from last season’s U19s, who went to July’s Euro Finals without a lot of players, over the last two years every age group has made semi-finals and beyond in their tournaments, so that’s encouraging. I believe we have a group of players who have still got the hunger, on the back of what they did this summer, to go and improve.
What do you think of the new UEFA Nations League? And do you think it will make friendlies more competitive in the long-run? Linc Abraham
Definitely. We always want to play the best opposition and I think that’s shown with who we’ve played over the last year or so in our non-qualifying games. The Nations League gives us something to focus on and from our perspective, the progression we want to make over the next few years is to be able to beat these sort of teams, so the games with Spain and Croatia give us a chance to do that.
As an England player, who was the best footballer you played against and why? Scott Warrington
I would say, as an individual player, it was Zinedine Zidane when I played against France. As a striking pair, we played against Brazil in Paris in Le Tournoi in 1997 and it was Ronaldo and Romario that we were marking so I don’t think you can get much better than that.