Belfast Telegraph

England manager Gareth Southgate ignoring fallout over Russia

 

By Rory Dollard

England manager Gareth Southgate has declared he has "little interest" in Boris Johnson's potentially incendiary views on the World Cup in Russia.

The foreign secretary has been outspoken in his recent remarks about Vladimir Putin's regime, agreeing at an appearance in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that this summer's tournament could be likened to the staging of the 1936 Olympics in Adolf Hitler's Germany.

Johnson is not alone among the political class in having his say in the wake of the Salisbury spy poisoning, with Labour MP Stephen Kinnock calling for the competition to be postponed and moved to a new location.

But Southgate, an engaged and inquisitive figure who has previously called on English footballers to shed their "island mentality", made it clear he had no time for such interventions.

"It's of little interest to me what the foreign secretary thinks about it," he said ahead of tonight's friendly with Holland in Amsterdam.

"I spoke to the players a couple of days ago and there's no suggestion we won't go to the tournament. The thing that's uppermost in our mind is security and safety and there are no concerns about that.

"I was in Russia for the Confederations Cup (last year) and there were about 15,000 fans from Chile there, it was an incredible atmosphere in the stadiums. The training grounds and facilities were excellent.

"I've spent some time in Russia and felt incredibly comfortable there. The situation is developing, I don't really know what that's going to be like in June. What I know currently wouldn't stop me going."

Southgate also acknowledged the possible side effects of growing tensions between the British and Russian governments, who have each expelled 23 diplomats from the other's country following the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent.

"I don't think we're going to be the most popular with the way things are going at the moment," Southgate acknowledged when it was suggested the Three Lions would be "the most hated" team in the competition.

"But I've been used to that over my career with different teams, maybe that can be an extra motivation for us."

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