The thoughts of Mark Hateley on England’s impending visit to Hampden would have any Scotland supporter thinking about an alternative way to spend their Saturday evening.
In a sympathetic rather than boastful fashion, the former Rangers forward yesterday suggested that Gordon Strachan’s men “couldn’t have played England at a worse time”.
Hateley is in no doubt that, in Gareth Southgate, the national side for which he was capped 32 times have a man that “ticks all the boxes” as to how to maximise the talent at the country’s disposal.
Moreover, that talent is a cut above what was previously available in recent years. England’s top players no longer merely provide the platform for more gifted team-mates at the leading sides. In such as Tottenham Hotspur trio Harry Kane – a future England top scorer, according to Hateley – Dele Alli and Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United, they have game changers from the powerhouse clubs.
Hateley ranks the current England squad as the best since the so-called golden generation in the early years of this millennium. A period when, with Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Gary Neville in the side the last eight of tournaments became a glass ceiling.
It did so because a star system operated that meant the glitterati were given games, irrespective of their form or physical shape. The omission of Rooney from tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier in Glasgow is evidence that, under Southgate, England are no longer a team that serves its stars but one that demands the stars serve it.
“Gareth has not picked Rooney because he’s not been playing for Manchester United,” Hateley said. “And he’s giving all the players who are playing club football hope – the knowledge that, if you are playing and playing well, you can get picked for England.
“I don’t think previous managers have done that. They’ve had their stick-ons and they’ve stood by them, even if they weren’t playing well. I’m always a fan of picking guys who are in good form, particularly strikers. Even if a striker hasn’t played for England before, if he’s banging them in for his club, bring him in.”
Southgate’s predecessor Sam Allardyce made the bizarre claim that Rooney should be allowed to dictate how he wanted to play for England. Hateley disagrees.
“Of course [the manager] can tell Rooney where to play. That’s how it works,” Hateley said.
“Look at Wales. Gareth Bale gets told to play one position by his manager – and he plays that one position, doesn’t go on the roam because he’s not kicked the ball for 20 minutes. He plays to the system and the team.
“All the players coming into play for England are now doing the same thing. In international football, you have to play with discipline – or you will be beaten. Look at Northern Ireland and Wales at the Euros. It’s all down to discipline.
“So Gareth has made a statement by dropping Wayne, that the players will serve England, rather than England serving the players.”
Many of these performers, despite only being in their early 20s, have served their time to reach the current vaunted levels in their careers.
“Eric Dier has made a name for himself in the Premier League with Spurs. Delle Ali is another one – and Kane,” added Hateley. “They’ve both done it properly, both been on loan at lower clubs to learn the profession, take the knocks – then come back to the most competitive league in the world.
“Now they’re learning from what they did on loan, bringing it into the top league and carrying that form into the international arena. As an Englishman, it’s great to see. I don’t know how many times in recent years England have gone to tournaments just expecting to get to semi-finals and finals.
“It’s a load of rubbish. You have to get there on merit – and we’ve not been good enough to get to quarter-finals, semi-finals.
“The last World Cup was an embarrassment, then there was the loss to Iceland in the Euros. But now we have players who are performing regularly at the right end of the Premier League.”
Or the wrong end, if you look through Scottish eyes.
Mark Hateley was speaking at a promotional event for Elton John’s concert at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium. Tickets for the concert on Saturday 24 June are still available at ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0141 646 3777 for hospitality.