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World Cup 2022: Gareth Southgate wants players to make it ‘best’ period for England

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate led England to the semi-finals at the last World Cup

Gareth Southgate says he wants his players to make the World Cup in Qatar the “best” period for English football.

The Three Lions fly to the Middle East on Tuesday after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, then the European Championship final in 2021.

But England’s men have not won a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

“How can we take the supporters on another journey, like the one they loved four years ago and loved last summer?” asked Southgate.

This year’s mid-season World Cup begins next Sunday with hosts Qatar coming up against Ecuador.

England will get their campaign under way the following day against Iran, with Wales and the USA also in their group.

The unique nature of this tournament means Premier League fixtures are paused after Sunday, with the 26-man squad travelling to the Gulf two days later.

The build-up has been overshadowed by issues in Qatar including the treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people.

Southgate said: “With the players, we want to talk to them about the excitement of going to a World Cup.

“I think we understand the need to comment on the off-field things that surround this tournament, but we want the players to feel that enthusiasm that they’ve had since kids.

“That struck me when I was speaking to them over the last few days, for better or worse, about going to a World Cup and what it means. We want to fuel that.

“[In] the first couple of days, we won’t be on the training pitch bar a couple that will need to do something. We just want them to transition from a hectic club schedule to thinking about England.

“We want to talk to them about the fact that this, whatever happens over the next four weeks, has been the second best period for English football. We can make it the best.

“So that is the only thing in my mind. It’s the challenge mindset. There’s nothing else.”

Bellingham ‘a very exciting player’

Jude Bellingham
Jude Bellingham took the captain’s armband at Borussia Dortmund for the first time in October

The tournament could see a breakthrough on the international stage for teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham, who has staked his claim as a starter in the first team.

The 19-year-old has featured 22 times for Borussia Dortmund this season, scoring nine goals, and was named club captain for the first time in October.

“He has tremendous maturity for his age,” Southgate said. “[He is] mature in how he works, how he trains, how he speaks. He competes – it is probably the thing we love about him more than anything else.

“That has a line at times and undoubtedly there will be moments, while he is young, that it will be crossed. But he’s a very exciting player and he’s one we’ve got a good body of experience into early, really.

“He went to the Euros. We thought it was a good experience for him, but he wanted more. We were thinking, for a 17-year-old, this is a really good transition.

“But his mentality is, no, no, no. He wants to start, he wants to take corners, he wants to captain the team, whatever it is.”

England have Covid plans

Coronavirus restrictions were eased in Qatar on 1 November, meaning visitors no longer need proof of a negative PCR or antigen test to enter the country.

Southgate is hoping Covid will not prevent those in the England camp from seeing their partners and families during the tournament.

“We’re still a little bit fluid on that,” he explained. “We almost prefer to under-promise and over-deliver.

“We would like it to happen [for players to see their families]. We think it is a significant part of a team feeling relaxed and feeling comfortable.

“But at the moment, none of us know what the transmission rate is likely to be out there.

“Families are obviously going to be mixing in bigger numbers with people at the stadiums and things like that. We’re going to have to track that.

“There might be ways of doing that more securely outside, so we have some plans in place. We want that to happen, but need to monitor it quite closely.”