Gareth Southgate has challenged England to build on their brilliant World Cup campaign in the way Germany did in 2010, rather than let it become “a moment of rare hope”.
The England manager also declared that reaching the semi-finals in Russia, and the extremely positive manner in which his team behaved on and off the pitch, showed that wearing the Three Lions shirt no longer involves “misery, regret, recrimination” as it has done for previous generations.
Germany reached the last four of the World Cup in South Africa eight years ago with a young team, beating England in the last-16 on the way, and then went further four years later by winning the tournament in Brazil with the bulk of the same squad.
Southgate took one of the youngest selections to Russia, and certainly the most inexperienced in terms of caps. Despite losing in the semi-finals against Croatia, when England were just 22 minutes away from reaching Sunday’s final against France, they will depart with pride restored and a new-found belief, even if the dressing room was “desolate” after the 2-1 extra-time defeat in Moscow.
“Of course we have one of two paths to go,” Southgate said. “This is either a moment of rare hope and we sink back or we build in the way that Germany did in 2010.
“We want to be in semi-finals, finals and we’ve shown to ourselves that can happen. The team and the individuals will be better in a couple of years time. Some of these big matches, you just have to go through them and live them to know how to react in the right moments in the right way.”
It was only the third time since winning the World Cup in 1966 that England have reached the semi-finals of a major tournament and, significantly, unlike on the previous two occasions, the manager will remain in place to build on his work. Following the 1990 World Cup, Sir Bobby Robson left and the same happened in Euro 96, when the semi-final defeat to Germany was Terry Venables last game in charge.
Southgate is contracted to 2020 and, even then, a two-year extension will be automatically triggered in his deal which will take him up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. To trigger that extension, all Southgate has to do is qualify for the next European Championships which, given its expanded format, is a relatively straightforward target.
It means he can expect to be England manager for at least the next four years if the 47-year-old wants to and given what he has achieved so far it would be no surprise if the Football Association suggested improving the current terms of his contract including an increase on the £1.8million-a-year he earns.
Southgate, for his part, is committed to continuing the overhaul of the England squad and prior to the World Cup name-checked several young players who he has his eye on. They include Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, Manchester City’s Phil Foden and Chelsea’s Mason Mount as well as Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah.
Southgate certainly believes the World Cup campaign has created a foundation. “We have to build,” he said. “We have some good young players coming through. We’ve had success at youth level. what we’ve done over the last few weeks has shown people what is possible, and we’ve got to use it as a springboard to consistently reach the latter stages of tournaments.
“The desire of the players and the hunger of the players is there for them to do it. It’s great that they may have had a feeling that playing for England is always misery, regret, recrimination and they have seen that it can be fun, it can be enjoyable. The whole experience can be enjoyable for everybody, really.
“They have had a view of what’s possible and that was my experience in my first tournaments with England. [After that] It was difficult to watch the guys avoiding mistakes for a long period. For the majority of this tournament we have tried to be as positive as we can be and be brave. Mistakes were always going to happen but I think to be a top team you have got to play in that style.”
There are lessons to be learnt. “At the moment we have to be realistic,” Southgate said. “All the games we’ve had against the bigger teams we haven’t managed to win yet. But we have won the games that maybe in the past we were expected to win and didn’t. Maybe that’s why we’ve got to the stage we have.
“Now we have got to keep improving, and these guys will improve. I think we’ve managed to get a lot from this group of players, and play in a way that highlighted some of our strengths and hid some of our weaknesses.”
England now face a third and fourth place play-off in St Petersburg against Belgium on Saturday and although changes will be made to the team – Kieran Trippier, Jordan Henderson and Ashley Young are expected to be ruled out injured – Southgate said the fixture matters.
“It’s the chance to have our second-best ever finish [at a tournament] and the chance for the players to get a medal,” he said. “So there’s that and there’s the pride in playing for your country again. So we’ll try and get the team that is best able to do the job.”