Gareth Southgate believes he is the best man to lead English football in its moment of crisis and is happy to have Wayne Rooney by his side as captain.
Sam Allardyce’s exit after just one game in charge last week saw Southgate installed as interim manager for the next four matches and he appeared before the press yesterday to deliver his manifesto.
The former Middlesbrough boss, who has been in charge of England Under-21s for the past three years, insisted he has the credentials to navigate the turbulent period and felt compelled to answer his country’s call.
Having named his first 23-man squad on Sunday, skippered once more by Rooney, he said: “It was the moment to step up and put myself forward as leader of the group.
“The last week has been a difficult one for our organisation and I felt it was important to step forward in a leadership position.
“When I came in on Tuesday morning I didn’t expect to be in charge of the team by 6pm.
“The situation developed so quickly but you get used in football to the sort of speed things happen.
“I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited by it. It’s a wonderful job to have for whatever period of time.”
Southgate was equally certain about Rooney’s ability to be a figurehead for England as they prepare to face Malta at Wembley on Saturday and travel to Slovenia three days later.
His role with the national side has been under heavy scrutiny since the Euro 2016 debacle but, like Allardyce before him, Southgate sees no reason to strip Rooney of the armband.
“The decision to make him captain is quite simple,” he said.
“What I felt from what I have seen around St George’s [Park], what I gleaned from talking to staff over the two years, is that he is the outstanding leader in the group.
“The most important thing at this time is leadership, on and off the field, and Wayne has provided that over the last two years.
“I have no doubt in my mind about keeping him in that position.”
The start of Rooney’s England career intersected briefly with the latter days of Southgate’s and the older man admitted the 30-year-old had grown considerably in stature in the intervening period.
“I’ve got to say, without being disrespectful, that the character I saw in front of me last week was a stark contrast,” he explained.
“The way he has matured, the way he spoke eloquently, the understanding of what was needed for the whole group in terms of his captaincy... I couldn’t have been more impressed.
“Wayne bears a lot of burdens for this team, I think too much at times.”
Southgate was statesmanlike and measured in demeanour, and FA chiefs can be relatively certain he is a safe pair of hands.
But, although firm favourite to be named permanent manager, he was at pains to distance himself from any nakedly ambitious sentiments. “I’ve not had a chance other than to prepare for this week on how we get the best opportunity to get results we want. Anything beyond that can wait for when we’ve had some time to breathe,” he said.
“I’ve exchanged messages with Sam. It was important to thank him. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who was waiting in the wings for an opportunity.
“After these seven weeks everyone can take a step back and think about what the future might be.”
Southgate’s squad was largely similar to the one chosen by Allardyce, with call-ups for 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, his uncapped Manchester United team-mate Jesse Lingard and forgotten man Glen Johnson the most eye-catching changes.
He has worked with the United pair at under-21 level, Rashford having scored a hat-trick on debut just last month, and is excited by their potential.
“I think we can all see [Rashford’s] ability and the effect he’s had on games, but it’s his maturity around the camp,” he said.
“He was still the youngest player in that under-21 squad and he took to that no problem at all.
“Jesse is a player I was really impressed with in two years working with the under-21s. He’s now establishing himself in Jose Mourinho’s team.”