England’s ambition to become the best in the world was laid out in a powerful presentation by manager Gareth Southgate, but Wayne Rooney was not there to hear it.
For too long the Three Lions have fallen flat at major tournaments, failing to make it out of their group at the last World Cup before bowing out to minnows Iceland at Euro 2016.
Southgate spoke of the need for English football to shed its island mentality ahead of his first matches since being given the reins, with tomorrow’s opponents Germany role models for the improvements required.
Ahead of his first match in the permanent role, the manager made a presentation to his players outlining his vision for the future, with those around the squad invited to yesterday’s meeting subject to club commitments.
Rooney was chief among them, but remained in Manchester to undergo treatment on an injury sustained in a collision with Phil Jones, missing a meeting that newcomer James Ward-Prowse revealed underlined England’s lofty ambitions.
“It was a very powerful message,” the Southampton midfielder and England Under-21s captain said, before confirming Rooney was not there.
“It is one that the Under-21s have received before, sort of highlighted about the highs and lows of a career and the ambitions that he sees for us.
“And, you know, we want to establish ourselves as a top team in the world.
“So it is all about plugging away at those goals and making sure that what we do now stands us in good stead for when we reach major tournaments.”
Asked what the goal is, Ward-Prowse added: “I think obviously we want to be the best in the world.
“If you want to win major tournaments, then you’ve got to become that sort of team.
“In every department – the medical side of it, technical and tactical, the operations and the way we things work – we all want to be the best and make sure we give ourselves a chance to succeed.”
It was a bold statement that the confident and eloquent Ward-Prowse has made before, saying in 2013 that the current crop can “reach the stars” after former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke spoke about winning the 2022 World Cup.
The midfielder was part of Southgate’s Under-21 squad at that point, so too was fellow newcomer and Southampton team-mate Nathan Redmond.
“It was the similar meeting to what he had with the 21s,” Redmond said. “Him telling us about himself, the highs and lows in his career. It brings him closer to the squad and that’s exactly what it did for the 21s.”
The meeting made an impression on 34-year-old striker Jermain Defoe, who is in line to make a first international appearance since November 2013.
“I was really impressed,” the Sunderland striker said. “Just his background and what he’s done in his career and at major tournaments.
“The ups and downs, dealing with disappointments. He spoke about missing the penalty at the Euros, and being a young captain at Crystal Palace, back in the day.
“Having all that pressure on young shoulders, he responded to that, having to deal with senior players. Because of his experience, he is for me the perfect man for the job.”
Defoe’s 55 England appearances makes him the second most capped player in a squad without Rooney.
But Ward-Prowse believes what the squad lacks in experience it makes up for in leadership qualities as Southgate moves away from the notion of a permanent England captain.
“I think from my experience in the Under-21s, we had a mini-leadership group within the team,” Ward-Prowse said.
“The idea was not only to have one captain but sort of four, five, six main leaders within a team.
“Certainly looking around the players that there are at the minute, we have definitely got that and more.
“I think in high-pressure moments it’s about those leaders on the pitch taking responsibility and I think that’s something that he will try to implement as his time increases with the squad.”
Defoe, meanwhile, has targeted making England’s final World Cup squad next year and hinted he may have to leave Sunderland if they are relegated.
The striker has been recalled after scoring 14 Premier League goals this season, despite the Black Cats battling relegation.
Defoe could feature in tomorrow’s friendly in Germany ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley.
He wants to make Southgate’s squad for next year’s tournament in Russia – should England qualify – but conceded that would be in doubt if Sunderland were relegated.
“You have to be realistic, to get into any squad is based on merit and to do that you have to be playing at the top level,” said Defoe, who has scored 19 goals in 55 games for England.