Gareth Southgate has said England’s young players have proven nothing yet and warned them not to risk harming his squad’s reputation after Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho were ruled out of the friendly against Wales on Thursday night following their Covid-19 rules breach last weekend.
England’s last two camps have been blighted by indiscipline and Southgate made it clear the “circus” caused by off‑field problems risks heaping unnecessary pressure on the team. Abraham, Chilwell and Sancho have apologised for their behaviour. Their participation in the Nations League tie against Belgium on Sunday depends on the outcome of coronavirus tests.
Southgate said his senior players have worked hard to rebuild a connection with fans after the humiliating defeat by Iceland at Euro 2016 and he wants to avoid any more distractions. The September camp was dominated by England’s manager dropping Harry Maguire after the defender’s criminal trial in Greece following allegations of a violent altercation with police and then sending Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood home for Covid breaches. Foden and Greenwood, who are not in this squad, had invited two women to the team hotel in Iceland.
“We have to recognise that things like this affect the team,” Southgate said. “They affect the energy. They take time to deal with and that time would be better spent being able to focus on preparing for training, having coaching conversations with players.
“You want an environment with the players that the pressure on the team is not made higher than it already is by having this circus going around it. We have achieved that very well. The players who have been with us for a long time deserve huge credit for that.
“We are going back to Iceland and some of the squad this week were involved and they have had to get through a lot of rough to get to a point where the team were respected and getting results which have not been achieved for 20 or 30 years and we are not prepared to let that disappear.
“The younger players coming in have got to realise they are in a position where they can feel comfortable with this group. That is important as you want them to feel they have got the freedom to play and can settle into the group but they have to realise they have done nothing yet. They have done nothing with us and have it all to prove. We have got to get that balance right.”
The manager said that England benefited from a calm atmosphere in the camp when they reached the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup. “If we have the types of things like we’ve had in the last couple of camps then we give opportunity for those sorts of stories to be written, so we have to try and give ourselves the best chance to perform and by having calm ship going into Russia, I think it gave us a better platform on which to perform.”
Southgate, who has less than a year to prepare for the delayed European Championship, will host Wales at Wembley without several of his most exciting young players. But whereas Greenwood and Foden were punished last month, Abraham, Chilwell and Sancho could return for the glamour tie with Belgium and the Nations League game against Denmark next Wednesday.
The trio broke the government’s “rule of six” guidelines after attending a surprise birthday party for Abraham in London last Saturday and have been forced to delay their arrival with the squad to prevent the risk of infection within the group.
“I’m not certain that punishment is always the correct phrase because that suggests we are taking a moral decision on what’s happened,” Southgate said. “One of the difficulties that these sorts of situations create is that you are in a moral maze.
“In terms of a few days off, I’m not sure that’s what any of those players wanted. They are missing the opportunity to play for England. They may well depending on assessment on symptoms or testing, if they are not back with us before Friday, and that’s difficult to gauge those timelines, then they will miss Sunday’s game as well. So that affects the team and affects them really.”
Southgate will play an inexperienced team against Wales and admitted Jordan Pickford’s form for Everton is a worry. Burnley’s Nick Pope is set to start against Wales, while Manchester United’s Dean Henderson is knocking on the door. “We know that Jordan has made errors,” Southgate said. “Nick actually made errors at the weekend. I always go back to the fact Jordan’s performances for us have been excellent. I am not oblivious to his performance at Everton but there can be lots of factors within individuals’ performances at their clubs.”
Southgate said that England benefited from a calm atmosphere in the camp when they reached the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup. “If we have the types of things like we’ve had in the last couple of camps then we give opportunity for those sorts of stories to be written, so we have to try and give ourselves the best chance to perform and by having calm ship going into Russia, I think it gave us a better platform on which to perform.”
England (probable): Pope; Walker, Coady, Keane; Trippier, Phillips, Winks, Saka; Barnes, Calvert-Lewin, Grealish.