England’s humiliating World Cup and Euro 2016 exits are the uncomfortable benchmarks for a team that Gareth Southgate still believes have the attitude and aptitude to achieve.
It is 50 frustrating years since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley, with a semi-final appearance in 1990 the closest the country has got on the world stage since then.
Two decades have passed since England last made the last four of a major tournament, with Germany ending the hosts’ hopes of Euro ‘96 glory after Southgate’s decisive spot-kick was saved.
The former defender is now playing an integral role in trying to improve the country’s fortunes, having helped create the Football Association’s England DNA philosophy, coached the Under-21s and taken temporary charge of the senior team.
Southgate can increase his chances of turning that interim spell into a permanent post when Spain arrive for a friendly tonight, but it was a subject he was again keen to avoid, unlike the subject of what English players can achieve. “I’m not sure if I’ve learned about myself because I was very aware of what I am, what I’m capable of, what I do,” he said of his temporary stint.
“I’ve obviously learned about the role, I’ve learned about the players and everything that surrounds the international set-up.
“I think part of coach development is knowing yourself anyway and then everyone else is a lot more comfortable.
“I think the insight has been into everything else that surrounds being in the position. Also it’s fascinating to see what is possible and achievable with this group of players.
“Definitely there is high potential. I still think there is a long way to go. The last two tournaments are a benchmark of where we’re at so we can’t keep talking about ‘we’re good, we’re this, we’re that’.
“We have to prove it and that means a lot of work ahead for whoever is in the position to take the team forward, but there is a real desire from the players to do that.
“I think they’re going to get big match experience with all their clubs that is going to aid that development.”
Title challenges, cup runs and European football at club level is being bolstered by tough international friendlies, with trips to Germany and France lined up before the season is out.
First comes a home clash with 2010 World Cup winners, and two-time European champions, Spain.