England boss Gareth Southgate hits back at Sweden criticism ahead of World Cup clash | Football | Sport


Fabian Delph’s mum was also a cleaner who found herself on the wrong side of the law so her boy could fulfil his football dream.

Jamie Vardy used to play wearing an electronic tag. Harry Maguire turned up to his first St George’s Park get-together with his kit in bin bags.

For years, Sweden – a team of Championship and lower Premier League journeymen – seemed to be able to get under the skin of England. They went from 1968 until 2011 maintaining an unbeaten record against the Three Lions.

Now, though, they no longer have their trump card.

“Sweden like to point out that we’re paid this and that, and that we’re the team of entitlement,” England manager Gareth Southgate said. “I don’t think that is the case for this group.”

The work ethic that has served the Scandinavians so well for so long is now evident through his own England team. Indeed, they have been forced to grow up so fast that even the normally cautious Southgate finally admits they are ready to deliver this summer rather than simply build for the future.

“We’re still a team which is learning,” he said, “but also, this might be one of the best opportunities we ever have. We don’t want to fall short by not being prepared or committed to what we’re doing.

“We’re lads who have come from Barnsley and Leeds and Bolton and Blackburn. We’re not a team where we just turn up and we’re waltzing around, strolling around, and we’ve got an entitlement.

“We’ve scrapped and fought our way. Most of our boys have played in the Championship or lower, whether they started there or played on loan there.

“We are having success because we are really grafting for each other, we are playing some good football but we are really working without the ball. No passengers, nobody failing to close down, nobody strolling around.

“That’s the bedrock of why we are getting some decent results and we have to continue doing that.”

By contrast, Southgate’s own upbringing was distinctly middle-class – his dad Clive was a manager at IBM, his mum Barabara a clerical worker. That, though, has made him the perfect ‘uncle’ figure to his collection streetwise charges. There is even the next generation to think about these days.

“We have, as a group, been through so much already,” Southgate said. “Phil Jones’s wife giving birth, now Fabian Delph’s.

“He was thinking of asking Jordan Henderson to be the one that christens the kid – now he thinks that might have been what sent his wife into labour!

“But it’s great. For all of the players it has been lovely for their families to come in and have the kids around the hotel and meet some of their parents. You can see how proud they are. They’re all committing a lot as well to us being away for that period of time.

“Of course, though, everybody wants to be here for another eight days.”

That contact with ‘back home’ has reinforced to Southgate’s young players just what the World Cup really means.

These are the Champions League generation – all of them born after UEFA pumped millions into its elite club competition and broadcast it around the world in a bid to steal the football agenda.

Fed the myth that club football is the be-all and end-all at a time when the national team were perennially under-performing, it is only now that the scales are at last falling from their eyes.

“Quite often they hear how the Champions League is the best competition, the best quality football, and of course the teams in the Champions League have more fluency and cohesion because they are playing together more regularly,” Southgate said. “But that doesn’t mean the level of the players is higher.

“My belief was always that the desire for the national team was there; it’s almost like we’ve had so much pain we want to push it to one side and not admit it. You put things down because you don’t want to get hurt at times.

“Now we’ve got 25 million people watching and we’re two games away from a World Cup final. That makes a huge difference.”

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