MANAGER Gareth Southgate has told England’s World Cup-bound squad to entertain the nation’s football fans during their time in Russia.
Southgate and his 23-man squad will fly from Birmingham this afternoon, destined for their base camp in Repino – a low-key resort near the Gulf of Finland.
They do so in good spirits, with inter-camp harmony at a peak, no injuries to speak of and a pair of quietly encouraging friendly wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica on which to reflect.
Southgate has made a big issue of winning back the hearts and minds of the country during his time in the job and believes his young, eager side are well on the way to achieving that aim.
All that is needed now is a tournament display that leaves fans cheering by their barbecues rather than crying into their beers.
“We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed our matches,” said Southgate. “I know what those tournament experiences can be like and we desperately want to bring that,
“We know we are not the finished article, in fact we’re a long way from it, but I think people see signs of progress and enjoy watching us and the manner in which we try to play.
“We are seeing a team that is enjoying each other’s company, getting on well, is very proud to represent the nation. They have some talent, have a real desire and determination to play for England.
“We ask people to pay a lot of money to watch football. In the end we want to entertain where we possibly can.
“I’ve talked before about there being a disconnect between the supporters and the team and I’ve felt that there’s different ways to bridge that.
We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed our matches - I know what those tournament experiences can be like.Gareth Southgate
“The most important is the way you play, and your performances and your results.”
England wrapped up their St George’s Park camp preparations by staging an internal match on the Sir Bobby Charlton Pitch.
Referee Anthony Taylor officiated the match, which involved all 23 squad members and stand-by midfielder Jake Livermore
Players switched between the teams that wore England’s white and black training tops, allowing Southgate to look at different combinations.
Their next session will be held at Spartak Zelenogorsk, a dedicated training base six miles from their ForRestMix Hotel.
England are not among the pre-tournament favourites, and are priced by the bookies to finish second in Group G behind Belgium, but several members of the squad have been bullish about their prospects of winning the trophy.
Captain Harry Kane set the tone with a confident assessment of the team’s chances and others have followed suit.
Southgate prefers a more measured view, focusing on the way the Three Lions go about their work rather than predicting the final outcome.
“Ultimately we know we’ll be judged on results, but we have to focus on the processes,” he said.
“If we do all of those things and we play with a smile on our face, enjoy our football, enjoy being in a tournament, then I think we will get results.”
Asked to sum up his own feelings about coaching his country on the biggest stage of all, he added: “I’m a very proud Englishman and I’ve said before that to play for my country was my only goal as a kid.
“So to now be managing and leading my country to a World Cup is an extra special moment. I recognise the responsibility that brings, but also I’m enjoying that challenge.”