New England boss Gareth Southgate believes it is not intelligent for players to add extra pressure to representing their country following the behaviour of captain Wayne Rooney and other squad members during the last international break.
Southgate was announced as England’s permanent boss on a four-year deal on Wednesday, with no break-clause in place to cover a poor World Cup showing in Russia, after taking charge of the previous four games on an interim basis.
After guiding England to a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Scotland, Southgate then had to deal with questions the following week after newspapers ran pictures of Rooney looking worse for wear having socialised long into the night the day after, while other players went on a night out of their own.
Given the recent poor displays at major finals, failing to get out of the group at the World Cup in 2014 and crashing out to Iceland at this summer’s European Championship, there is already enough pressure on a squad very much under the spotlight.
Speaking at his unveiling at Wembley, Southgate confirmed Rooney would remain his skipper, although again he suggested that did not mean the Manchester United man was assured of a place in his starting XI. And he admitted Rooney’s antics only ramped up the pressure on himself.
“I think it would be a bit difficult to read any riot acts three months after something has happened, even at home I’d struggle to do that,” the 46-year-old said.
“I don’t think this is a subject to just look at individuals, there is a team situation that is possible to improve and effect.
“Where I will be clear is that there is a level of expectation when you are with England. We talk about pressure and we spend most of our time trying to relieve it, so if we put ourselves in positions where we are going to increase that pressure it is not intelligent.
“I think it is important as a playing squad and group of staff we recognise that and we want to be a top team, so if we want that everything we do has to be geared towards improving.
“The way we look after ourselves, there has to be time to unwind, there is a time to have a glass of beer or wine, but that has got to be done at the appropriate time and at the right level if we aren’t going to inhibit the way we perform. If we think we are good enough to play against the best and give ourselves a slight handicap along the way, good luck with that.”
Southgate said he will also look into the way England players are given free time during international meets as he looks to bring the nation on par with the best in the world.
He added: “Fundamental to that is how are we going to be physically at our very best to perform at the highest level because international and top European football in this day and age, the physical preparation is key and so there is an opportunity to discuss it with the players and see what they want to do. It is important that they get free time because I have been an England player and you are away in a camp for a long time so there has got to be down-time but what we do with that and how we do it now is a great opportunity to open it up.”
Although there was widespread criticism of Rooney’s activities, with the player himself hitting out at media coverage of the night in question, Southgate said England’s all-time record goalscorer will remain captain – even though he also intends to tap into the leadership qualities of the rest of his squad.
“Wayne is England captain,’’ he said. “I think I said that at the beginning of the interim period but what’s also clear is I’ve only selected him to start in two of the four matches we’ve had.
“Obviously it’s not the case that Wayne expects to play every game. It’s important for me to develop more leaders in that group.”