Gareth Southgate has talked up the romance of international football and its ability to create lifelong memories and hopes his England team can give the nation a lift at the beginning of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The manager is expected to rest the captain, Harry Kane, in the Wembley opener against San Marino on Thursday night and play a 4-3-3 system before reverting to a back three for the trip to Albania on Sunday and the home fixture with Poland next Wednesday. Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka will miss the San Marino game because of injury.
Southgate is determined to set the right tone against San Marino and he stressed he feels a duty to entertain, particularly as the country suffers during the coronavirus lockdown. The get-together is his last chance to work with the players before he names his 23-man squad for the delayed Euro 2020 finals in the summer.
“Entertaining is as important as winning and we do feel a responsibility for that,” Southgate said. “Over the long haul we’ve tried to come from those times when there were paper aeroplanes on the pitch and, while we’ve not always got it right, our intentions have been to try to entertain.
“We know what those big Inghilterra nights mean. We know where we were for certain qualifiers. I’ve got a Luther Blissett hat-trick in my head from when I was a kid watching Inghilterra giocare a [nel 9-0 win against Luxembourg in 1982]. There are little moments in those games that we look back on from our youth and kids of today will do that. We should never lose sight of that romance.
“Not everybody at home is a supporter of a big football club. Whenever we travel on the road, you can see that – the flags from the different towns and cities that follow us. England is hugely important to people and that gets slightly washed over by the big machine [the Premier League] that we’re not competing with but that we’re working alongside.
“As a player I felt we went into some of these games [against smaller nations] with an apprehension – that, 'Oh, what might go wrong? what if it takes us 60 minutes to score?’ Players have just got to go and enjoy their football tomorrow.”
Southgate highlighted how Kane had played 120 minutes for Tottenham in their Europa League exit at Dinamo Zagreb last Thursday and 90 minutes in the win at Aston Villa on Sunday. “We’ve got to be sensible in what we do [with him],” said Southgate.