Gareth Southgate warns England stars 'must be spot on' in order to write history vs Italy

Posted Sunday, July 11, 2021 by

Gareth Southgate insists England charges must be faultless to get the better of Italy in the European Championship final this Sunday.

Gareth Southgate has told his players to forget being the nation's good guys this weekend and choose what colour medal they want. England go into the European Championship final having already won over the country with their attitude and spirit. But Southgate has challenged them whether that is enough to take from the biggest game of their lives.

"Whatever happens now, they're all going to take a medal which has not happened for decades to an England group and they deserve it,” he said. “They've been an absolute pleasure to work with and I can't speak highly enough of them.

"We know the size of the challenge but what a brilliant challenge for us to have and what a brilliant opportunity for the players to write one more piece of history.

"I said to the players on Thursday all of these other bits, the legacy bits they have achieved, people are respecting how they've been acting and respecting that they represent the country in the right way.

"But now they have a choice of what colour medal? And that in the end is what, yesterday and today and tomorrow and the matchday are all about.

"We can win it, but we've got to get it spot on. Their focus, their preparation, is going to have to be spot on to achieve what they want.”

Gareth Southgate warns England stars 'must be spot on' in order to write history vs Italy
England stars relishing tough Italy task as Gareth Southgate warns 'we must be spot on' (Image: GETTY)

To that end, Southgate has not allowed himself even a single minute of daydreaming since leaving the Wembley pitch after beating Denmark on Wednesday.

"It was strange the other night, because once I'd finished embarrassing myself on the pitch, I wasn't pinching myself saying, 'We're in the final,” he said,

"It was we've got to get this right now. How do we get this game right? Because I know it won't be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don't if we don't win it now.”

For once Southgate is lost for an answer. “No, I've no idea who'd play me in the film,” he said. “Well, he'd be a good-looking fella, obviously.”

It is the Hollywood story waiting to happen. A young kid, harrowed expression on his face, has just let his nation down by missing the penalty that keeps glory tantalisingly out of reach for another few years of hurt at least.

But fast forward 25 years, the man nobody wanted has been forced to take over managing the team when nobody else wanted the job and in just five years is on the verge of making a new history to redeem himself forever.

Gareth Southgate warns England stars 'must be spot on' in order to write history vs Italy
Gareth Southgate warns England stars 'must be spot on' in order to write history vs Italy (Image: GETTY)

"I could see why the sort of film script or whatever,” Southgate said. “And I didn't want the manager's job, no, because I knew that when we have had difficult tournaments as a country, the FA come under scrutiny.

"So there is not going to be any enthusiasm for an FA man getting the job and I know people saw me as an FA man.”

Southgate had served as head of elite development from 2011 till 2013 but found resistance even to getting the national centre for excellence up and running frustrating from an organisation which was too backward thinking for the 21st century.

When construction of the St George's Park training complex was finally completed, he felt the potential might be there after all. He signed up to take the under-21 side – giving him the chance to work with young players like the one who had fluffed his big moment in the spotlight in 1996.

And he had a story he could tell them which they could all relate to.

"If I'm talking to young people now, hopefully what they've seen is that those sorts of moments in your life don't have to define you,” he said.

"You have to work your way through them and develop resilience. There's a really fine balance now, because we know young people need support and we've got to treat them in certain ways.

"But if you're trying to achieve extraordinary things, which our players are, then you're into an environment that is a lot more hostile, and it can't always be supportive.”

"Moreover, once his young players step over the white line at Wembley tomorrow night, there is very little he can do to help them.”

It is at this point the subtle background music swells and we have an epic on our hands.

"You've got to play in front of 90,000 people,” Southgate, now sounding more like Morgan Freeman. “You’re in the Colosseum and it’s the thumbs up or thumbs down. That can’t always be a cuddly, warm environment.

"You’ve got to have resilience, or you’ve got to develop resilience.”

But in the end, as England showed even with their semi-final exit in the 2018 World Cup, a nation can become united.

"What hit me coming back from Russia was families coming up to me on the street, people coming up to me on the street from all backgrounds of our country and saying they felt they could go to a game now and not be abused at the stadium, connect with the team,” Southgate said. “They felt part of it.

"That inclusivity is really important for us because I think that is what modern England is.” It sounds like the perfect happy ending – but there is a catch.

"You still have to win football matches,” Southgate concluded. “You get lovely messages that say whatever happens now... But that won't be how it will be on Monday. I get the story.”

Probable England vs Italy XIs
ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane

ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Verratti, Jorginho, Barella; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne

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