Adam Lallana ranks Gareth Bale as one of the top five players in the world, but is all too aware of the pitfalls that await England if they focus too much against Wales on the player with whom he grew up.
The pair both arrived at Euro 2016 off the back of European finals, with Bale winning a second Champions League title in three years after his former Southampton team-mate lost out on Europa League glory with Liverpool.
Such grand stages are a far cry from their starting point a decade ago, with Lallana making his first-team debut as Saints overcame Yeovil 5-2 in a second-round League Cup tie that was just the seventh match of the Real Madrid star’s club career.
The graduates of Saints’ fabled academy have continued to flourish since moving on and will lock horns at Euro 2016 as Lens hosts an eagerly-anticipated encounter between England and Wales tomorrow.
“I played with Gareth growing up and he always had great ability, great talent from a young age,” Lallana said.
“It’s credit to him, how hard he’s worked, how he’s developed his game and now he’s at the top.
“Gareth’s a great player but Wales have got a lot of talented players in their team so it’s not just Gareth we’ve got to focus on. We’ve got to focus on all of their strengths.”
Bale is undoubtedly Wales’ star turn, though, having transformed from a wonderfully-talented full-back at St Mary’s to a world-class attacker at the Bernabeu.
Lallana believes his former team-mate is among the top five players in the world, but that does not mean a man-marking job is necessarily the right way to go in Lens.
“It’s not for me to decide,” he said. “He is a good friend of mine, he is a good player – a very good player, we all know that – but they’ve got some very good other players.
“Joe Allen, who I’ve had the pleasure of playing with, is a top quality player. I believe he got man of the match the other day. They’re filled with very good players, Aaron Ramsey is another one.
“We can’t be naive and all focus on Gareth, that’s definitely not the right thing to do.”
Bale was much of the focus at a packed press conference in Chantilly, where Lallana also fielded numerous questions about security and the potential for trouble around tomorrow’s game.
The Liverpool attacking midfielder’s message to fans was to remain “safe and sensible” for a match that is all the more important following the first matches of Group B.
Wales’ 2-1 win against Slovakia and England’s 1-1 draw with Russia ratchets up the pressure on Roy Hodgson’s men, but the last-gasp leveller in Marseille has not thrown the Three Lions off kilter.
Lallana says it is “definitely out of our system” and is ready for the trip to the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, where a more ruthless edge is key after failing to make a fine display count in Marseille.
“We’ve got big players in our team used to dealing with a huge amount of pressure week-in, week-out,” he said.
“Representing your country brings a pressure in itself. I think we’ve learned to thrive off that.
“We know it’s a big game, we don’t need anyone else to tell us how big it is.
“We’re just going to focus on ourselves, our footballing ability, how we’re going to win the game and we’re very confident we can do that.”
England have no plans to keep friends and family away from the match against Wales despite worries over more fan violence.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke wrote to UEFA about his dissatisfaction with stewarding during England’s draw with Russia, a game that was preceded by battles between fans in Marseille and ended with Three Lions fans being attacked in the stand.
He also said he harboured “serious concerns” over tomorrow’s meeting with Wales in Lens, with Russia playing in nearby Lille the day before.
Jamie Vardy’s wife Rebekah was caught up in some of the disturbances outside the stadium, tweeting that fans were “treated like animals” by police.
But Lallana and Ryan Bertrand said they expected their loved ones to attend as normal.
“No, I’m not concerned. I’ve got friends and family coming to the game,” said Lallana.
“I trust everyone to be sensible and safe.
“It’s not nice to see, we’ve just got to hope the security is there and trust everyone to do their job.”
Bertrand added: “The players are fully confident that the security staff are in charge and they will fully control the situation and families will be safe.
“We reiterate that response to try and be sensible and stay safe.”
The FA have a private website for players and staff, on which safety advice, logistical details and contact numbers are made available.
An FA spokesman said: “We run a private website for friends and family that players can access with up to date information and we have staff in place from an operational and security point of view.”