Roy Hodgson's England squad fly to Poland today to their Euro 2012 base camp with a warning from one of the Football Association's most senior figures that the nation has to be realistic about the potential of a team that is not able to "outplay" other elite European teams.
Gareth Southgate, the FA's head of elite development and soon to be appointed as technical director, said Hodgson's team would have to stick to their strengths, which were that they were difficult to beat. He called for supporters to be patient with a squad that has already been ravaged by injuries.
Southgate, 41, now an ITV pundit who won 57 England caps, was speaking at the broadcaster's launch of its coverage of Euro 2012 last month. The England team fly from Luton airport to Krakow at 2pm today having reconvened at their hotel in Hertfordshire yesterday after a short break. John Terry was one of those players who did not take part in full training but is expected to be fit for Monday's game against France, who beat Estonia 4-0 last night in Paris.
Southgate said: "I don't think we are in a situation where, as a country, we can go out there and outplay too many teams. We rarely outpossess other countries, so we've got to think logically about how we set up and the best way to get results.
"That's not negative. How did we beat Spain [under Fabio Capello in November]? How did Chelsea get through against Barcelona? In certain games you have to accept the opposition might get more of the ball, so that tends to dictate what you do with your selection. While certainly you want to win the first game in the tournament, if you lose it you have a mountain to climb."
In answer to what the FA's response would be should England go out at the group stage, Southgate said: "There's always an inquest whatever happens, but we have to have a realism about the situation [Hodgson has] been put into, the amount of time he's got to work with the team. If you look outside the squad and the standby list, there aren't too many players that come into your thinking as being of international quality. The pool of players to pick from is the biggest thing, long-term, we have to look at, developing young players and changing how we do that and then that they are given an opportunity with clubs."
Southgate also challenged young players to make "the right sort of career moves". Southgate agreed that Adam Johnson, who played under him at Middlesbrough, was a prime example of a promising young English player who had moved to a big club and then seen his first-team chances limited.
"Now's there's a decision for Adam because at Middlesbrough he was playing every week. He's got to try to force his way into the first team there. He's got to think about that."
The former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson defended Hodgson over his decision to call up Martin Kelly instead of Rio Ferdinand for the injured Gary Cahill, insisting it had nothing to do with an alleged rift between the Manchester United defender and John Terry.
"I know there is no truth in these claims," he wrote in his column for Swedish newspaper Expressen. "How? You're just going to have to trust me."