Gareth Southgate has urged England’s World Cup hopefuls to scrap for selection and warned no-one is guaranteed a place on the plane to Qatar. Southgate made 10 changes from the weekend win over Switzerland as preparations for the winter tournament continued with Tuesday evening’s 3-0 success over Ivory Coast at Wembley.
England will discover their group stage opponents on Friday when the World Cup draw is made in Doha. With the countdown to the competition firmly under way, Three Lions boss Southgate expects growing competition to fuel the desire of those seeking to make his final squad. The likes of Newcastle United’s Dan Burn were not included in the most recent squad, but his form for the Magpies could yet put him into contention before November.
“I’d be picking 18 (players to start) if I picked everybody they tell me should be in – I can’t do that,” said Southgate, who watched Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings score against the Ivorians. “They can all get on with it and fight it out amongst themselves and we’ll pick the ones that are playing at the best level and who can do the job.
“We’re in a fortunate position that we do have good players. You can motivate players as a manager, but there’s no higher motivation than two more on the bench that can come and take your place.
“That’s how the big clubs work and we’re starting to get that competition in most positions on the field. We’re always open minded, we’re always assessing, we’re watching them every week, we see the positive qualities and we see the little bits that, ‘OK, how can we improve that a little bit?’.
“We’re all wanting to develop the best possible players and the best possible team. Without a doubt, none of the players in the squad can sit and think they’re in the 23, 26 or in the 11. They’ve all got to keep playing well and keep pushing each other.”
Southgate guided England to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago in Russia and then suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the final of Euro 2020. He acknowledges those recent near misses have raised expectations and says the prospect of taking the team one step further is “massively exciting”.
“It’s a different excitement because of course I’d never led my country to a major tournament and we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get,” said Southgate, comparing the 2018 tournament in Russia to the forthcoming one. “We had some players that we thought might really do well and now we have more evidence of results and more expectation.
“It’s a different sort of feel, but it’s still a tournament that we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it’s a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting.”
With the World Cup scheduled to be staged in the middle of the domestic season, Southgate will have limited time for final preparations immediately before the tournament. England return to action in June when they begin a Nations League campaign which comprises fixtures against European champions Italy, four-time world champions Germany and Hungary.
Southgate intends to balance blooding young talent and fine tuning World Cup plans during that competition.
“We definitely want to do well in it,” he said of the Nations League. “We’ve always used every competition to look at young players at the right time and tried to keep winning matches. The first Nations League, we played (Joe) Gomez, (Ben) Chilwell and Harry Winks in Spain, it was one of the youngest teams that we’d fielded at that point, I think.
“We’ve always thought that if players are doing well and we think they’re capable then we’ll play them. It’s going to be a really good test in terms of the quality of the fixtures and an important stepping stone to keeping the connection with the players and continuing to improve on the detail because we’re not going to have that time immediately before the tournament. Every session on the coaching pitch is really important.”