Gareth Southgate looks back at England's setbacks and learnings from 2019

Wednesday 18 Dec 2019
England boss Gareth Southgate has been speaking about his team's setbacks in 2019
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Gareth Southgate pauses and thinks, as he's asked to recall some of the setbacks and learnings for his England squad during his review of 2019.

It’s largely been a good one for the Three Lions, with Southgate’s side sealing their place at next summer’s UEFA EURO 2020, scoring plenty of memorable goals along the way as well as seeing more young players making their breakthrough.

But in many ways, it’s also been a difficult year for the England manager with incidents both on and off the pitch and as he looks back at the last 12 months, it’s about learning from both the positives and the negatives, whether that's from the racist abuse his players received in two Euro Qualifying games, defeat in the UEFA Nations League semi-final or November's incident involving Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez.

“No journey of a team is ever going to be smooth and seamless,” he said.

“I think those moments of difficulty are really where you find out about people and really you then have a chance as a group to react in one way or another.

“You can either fold and things can fall apart a bit, or you can react in the right way.

“Some of those challenges in Montenegro and Bulgaria were broader than just football and we knew there was an opportunity to perhaps make a difference in wider society.

 

“But also, they were an important moment for us as a team, that everybody felt supported and everybody felt the team were united in what they were going to do. We definitely got to that stage as the year went through.”

Another blow for the Three Lions came during the inaugural UEFA Nations League Finals in June, when Southgate and his squad headed to Portugal hoping to come home with the title.

But an extra-time defeat against the Netherlands in the semi-final, after what we thought was a late winner from Jesse Lingard was ruled out by VAR, meant the players had to suffer deep disappointment before moving on to another game three days later which they won.

Southgate now looks back at June’s trip and admits the whole experience can only be used as a positive for his squad as they head into next summer’s EURO.

“For us, we had six months of build-up for the game and then the bizarre situation of our teams getting through in the Champions League,” he recalled.

“We realised we were going to have two or three days with the players and that was unique really.

“The quality of the game was an important challenge for us, but also to go to Portugal and play with 20,000 England fans in the stadium and some pressure on the game, because we had the chance to win something.

“For our young players in particular - for quite a few of them - that's the biggest game they've ever played in.

Jesse Lingard strokes home against the Dutch, only for a marginal offside to rule the goal out via VAR

“Those experiences are crucial for the development of the team. It wasn’t what we wanted, there were elements of the performance that were good and we were a VAR decision of half a foot, which has now become quite commonplace, but that was one of the first we'd experienced.

“If we'd gone 2-1 up in the 84th minute, then I think the game is done. But extra-time and we concede two poor goals and the whole evening feels completely different. These are the fine margins in those big games, but as an experience the whole competition was a really good one for us.

“After the game with the Dutch, it was important to finish with a victory [against Switzerland], because there was such huge disappointment inside and outside the camp.

“We'd deserved to win the game with the Swiss in normal time and we deserved to win it by the end of extra time.

“It was still important to win that penalty shootout, and again, another good experience.

“We came away from the whole competition with some progress having been made, but in our mind we knew a lot that needed working on and it fixed our mind as a group of coaches for what needs to happen ahead of next summer in particular.”

The Three Lions are back in action on home soil in March, as they focus on the preparations for UEFA EURO 2020 with games against Italy and Denmark at Wembley. 

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By Nicholas Veevers