NEW England manager Gareth Southgate has warned his players they cannot afford to take liberties with their free time on international duty.
The 46-year-old became the Three Lions’ third permanent manager of a turbulent year on Wednesday, penning a four-year deal following an interim stint in charge.
The high point of that four-match spell was a 3-0 defeat of oldest foes Scotland in World Cup qualification, but the subsequent break led to the lowest ebb as pictures emerged of Wayne Rooney looking the worse for wear.
England’s captain was not alone and other squad members were reportedly seen out, leading free time to be reassessed as Southgate starts to implement his ideas.
“Where I will be clear is that there is a level of expectation when you are with England,” the new manager said.
“We talk about pressure and we spend most of our time trying to relieve it, so if we put ourselves in positions where we are going to increase that pressure it is not intelligent.
“I think it is important as a playing squad and group of staff we recognise that and we want to be a top team, so if we want that everything we do has to be geared towards improving. The way we look after ourselves, there has to be time to unwind, there is a time to have a glass of beer or wine, but that has got to be done at the appropriate time and at the right level if we aren’t going to inhibit the way we perform.
“If we think we are good enough to play against the best and give ourselves a slight handicap along the way, good luck with that.”
Southgate has plenty of time to review the current set-up given his first match in permanent charge is not until March.
The 57-cap former defender intends to create a “high-performance culture” – one where he does not believe draconian rules will work, but clear “lines of what is acceptable and what isn’t” will.
Southgate used the All Blacks as an example to follow yesterday when his unveiling meant a meeting with England rugby union coach Eddie Jones had to be postponed.
Australian Jones has questioned the leadership culture of a team that required a curfew after the controversy surrounding Rooney and company, with 13 straight Test wins after a miserable World Cup suggesting a level of ownership and accountability within the rugby ranks.
“You’ve got to have that switch-off, every elite sportsman has got to have that switch-off,” Southgate said.
“But to what degree that is and what that looks like, does need some, I won’t say management, but, come on, how good do we want to be? What do we want to be as we go forward?
“Every athlete has that decision to make in terms of their, I won’t say sacrifice’ but decisions that they are going to make – and we’ve got good competition for places.
“So the days are gone from when I was younger, where we did have beers after a game. Fish and chips and beer on the way home on the coach, and probably fall off the bus. The rest of the league aren’t doing that now. The rest of the world aren’t doing that.
“So we are competing in a different landscape and we have to be as professional and well prepared as everybody else before we even start looking at how good we are technically or tactically.”
Even if time off is not scrapped, a repeat of the high jinks witnessed during last month’s break looks unlikely.
Rooney took the most flak, but his manager attempted to draw attention away from him, saying the only time he saw his captain that night was when he popped into a coaching meeting at 10.30pm.
Southgate was pressed on the matter, but did not divulge any more, joking that the only person he has told to go to bed in the last few years was his son.
“I think the detail of everything else is unimportant,” he said.
“For me, the important thing is what we do now as a group of players, and as a group of staff.
“The culture we create, the environment that we want to have, has got to be one of excellence, and we’ve got to strive to be the best we can be.
“Because for me the end game isn’t getting the job here.”
Southgate has already spoken of his desire to lead the side at Wembley when it hosts the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final, a point by which Rooney will have retired from international football.
The 31-year-old intends to call time on his England career after the 2018 World Cup, ahead of which Southgate confirmed the forward will retrain the captain’s armband.