Southgate circles the wagons as England prepare for Panama
England boss questions nation’s media after apparent XI for second game is circulated
Gareth Southgate leads an England training session ahead of Sunday’s clash with Panama. Photograph: Paul Ellis/Getty
World Cup Group G, England v Panama, Sunday June 24th (kick-off 1.0)
They don’t usually tend to become apparent until a game is actually lost, but the use of a long-range photograph - taken at England’s open training session on Thursday and thought to reveal Sunday’s starting line-up - has brought tensions with the media out into the open, even as the team sits joint-top of its group going into the second round of Group G matches.
At his press conference on Friday Gareth Southgate chided journalists for using the picture and so helping England’s second opponents, Panama, before apparently attempting to suggest that the page on which the team was set out - in a notepad carried by his assistant Steve Holland -was just one of many containing different combinations.
“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate told the assembled reporters. “So of course our media has to decide if they want to help the team or not.”
Various high profile journalists took to twitter to defend the original decision to publish with the BBC’s Dan Roan remarking that: “Core role of media - in whatever field - is to report the news impartially. Public expect it in politics. Why any different in sport? Don’t know any journalists covering England here who don’t want to see team do well. But also have a job to do. Was an open training session.”
Quite a few supporters, as it happens, took issue with him and Kyle Walker, who was put for interview at the press conference, suggested that the press should tailor what they reported so as to support the team.
“If you guys just try and keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out, because it’s not going to help us,” he said. “All the world has seen that team now but you guys have to do your little bits.” He also acknowledged that Holland had apologised for revealing the team.
The nature of the debate is certainly nothing new. The Irish Times was, for instance, criticised by some supporters back in 2002 for publishing the interview with Roy Keane which ultimately led to his departure from the Ireland squad for the World Cup in 2002. But in the case of England there is also a longstanding and sometimes deeply fractious relationship between the players and sections of the media; one that can, it has been suggested, impact very negatively on the way they perform at tournaments.
“I’ve sat at the back of the coach, after an international, and I’ve heard people saying ‘Oh God, that’s me getting a 5 in the paper tomorrow,’ or ‘that’ll be me with a turnip on my head,’” former England international Michael Owen told The Irish Examiner recently.
“Because we’ve been ridiculed for years and years, everyone’s almost petrified of the backlash. They’re more concerned about ‘please, let me not be the one’, because they’ve seen that, at every single tournament, we have to have a scapegoat.
“The same people that were doing well in the Premier League were trying to put their foot down to control the ball - which they can do with their eyes closed - and they were missing the ball. I remember two or three occasions, within five minutes, a pass going into someone and it went under their foot. And that is not anything other than nerves.”
The players’ complaints are not restricted to the level of criticism over performances either. Raheem Sterling, the England player that the photo suggested will be dropped for Sunday’s game, was widely criticised for his display against Tunisia but it is the far more personal attacks on him by “certain tabloids,” that the 23 year-old has expressed his dismay over.
Sterling has been repeatedly derided by a couple of publications for being either a lavish spender, or mean, and most recently for getting the tattoo of gun on his leg, something he said was connected to the death of his father when he was a small boy.
“Especially when I bought my mum a house,” he says in an article published on Friday in The Players’ Tribune, “it was unbelievable what some people were writing. I think it’s really sad that people do that. They hate what they don’t even know. They just want to steal your joy. They just want to pull you down.”
Sterling does look set to lose his place for the game against Panama in Nizhny Novgorod, though, with Marcus Rashford starting instead unless Southgate looks to make some very big point. Dele Alli, meanwhile, is said by the manager to have only a very “slim” chance of starting with Ruben Loftus-Cheek expected to step in instead.