England manager Gareth Southgate wants his players to enjoy their time off before and during the World Cup in Russia despite the potential for criticism of his management.
Southgate named a youthful 23-man squad on Wednesday and his given those not involved in the FA Cup or Champions League finals a week off to rest after the rigours of a long Premier League season before meeting up next week.
Many of Southgate’s stars have jetted off around the world, but the former England defender said he isn’t worried about their behaviour despite the glare of the public eye before a major tournament.
As a player Southgate was part of the England side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 96 on home soil despite a media outcry at several members of the squad drunkenly partying on a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong.
“I?m not interested in what they do over the next few days. It?s four weeks before we have a game,” said Southgate, whose side kick off their World Cup on June 18 against Tunisia.
“Before Euro 96 I had three days in Magaluf with Aston Villa so it would be a bit hypocritical to discuss what the correct preparation was.
“They need a switch off and I don?t see an issue with it in the next three or four days, most have gone away with their partners and they have young kids anyway. But those that don?t, they are physically in good shape, they need a mental switch off.”
– Trust placed in players –
A series of Southgate’s predecessors have struggled with the balance of keeping the squad out of the media spotlight and avoiding boredom in a locked down training camp.
England will be based in the sleepy seaside town of Repino, around 45 kilometres (28 miles) west of Saint Petersburg, and Southgate hinted he may allow his players into the city on their days off.
“It can?t just be 24-hours a day football,” added Southgate. “They might do a couple of things that get criticised on the back of that, but I have to be brave enough to say I am prepared for them to go into Saint Petersburg to sightsee or see families or whatever.
“Obviously there is some trust in that which has to be respected, but I think they know where that sits. You are creating an adult environment.”
Gary Cahill is the only member of Southgate’s squad with more than 50 caps. However, he has a host of talented players at his disposal in their early 20s with Champions League experience in the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli.
And Southgate was keen not to play down expectations despite former England great Gary Lineker suggesting the team should “write off” chances of success in favour of promoting youth.
Since an unconvincing qualifying campaign, England have drawn with Germany, Brazil and Italy and beaten the Netherlands away for the first time in 49 years in four prestige friendlies.
“We have to think about what is possible and how far we can go. We have been competitive against four big countries in the last few months, but we haven?t beaten them all and we haven?t got to a quarter-final in the last tournament,” said Southgate.
“There is improvement we have to make, but I don?t want to inhibit things. The team isn?t far away from close to peaking, but they haven?t had those experiences (at major tournaments) yet.”