Belfast Telegraph

Southgate's VAR warning for England's young stars

England 2-1 Nigeria

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Gareth Southgate has told his England players that the use of VAR at the World Cup means that they cannot afford to take any risks with discipline or diving, because they will be caught on camera and punished.

In a team meeting at The Grove hotel on Saturday morning, before England's 2-1 win over Nigeria, Southgate told his squad that if they ever thought they could "get away with anything", they no longer could because of VAR.

This raises the prospect of England players having to adjust their games in Russia because of the increased scrutiny from officials. Southgate has told them they "have to be aware of" the changes and their implications.

"It's a conversation we had this [Saturday] morning with everybody, for that very reason," Southgate said after the Nigeria game. "Not that we are looking to get away with anything, but if we thought we could, that's gone. We have to be vigilant in all areas of the pitch."

Southgate was asked about diving - Raheem Sterling was booked for simulation on Saturday - and he said that bad tackles could be an issue too for his players.

"Whatever is [decided], there have been tackles we've had in recent games that would be pulled up, might have been yellow or red cards. For all our players, it's something we have to be aware of."

Southgate said that his players understood what VAR would mean.

"They recognised that's going to come in," Southgate said.

"It's a system everybody is still getting used to and how it's implemented is going to be key because if you look at any corner, for example, if you go looking for infringements you could find hundreds. How that is going to be interpreted is going to be really important for the consistency in the tournament."

Southgate also spoke about the importance of off-field discipline, and how after the incident with Sterling reporting late from holiday, he had to ensure that standards did not drop.

"I have been a player, and I know that when things get sloppy, standards drop. And we have to make sure they do not drop."

While a more experienced dressing room could ensure that does not happen, the fact that this is a young England team means that Southgate has to take more of a hands-on role with disciplinary issues.

"I don't think we are quite at that stage where they are ready to do [police themselves]," Southgate said.

"In an ideal world, in any sport, you have experienced senior players who take control of situations. I don't think they are quite ready to take total ownership of those decisions, because of their age and their experience.

"In the end it is for the long term benefit of the team, but I also know when to step in to set the tone and I know with each player that is slightly different. But they will react off the leader and that leader has to be strong."

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand has, meanwhile, backed Sterling to shrug off the criticism aimed at him.

"There is always going to be one scapegoat and people then pick out that scapegoat and abuse him," he said.

"What I love about Raheem is that he has thick skin. He's a hard worker. He's someone who wants to do well and he's a learner. And I think we've seen that this year. He's been educated by Pep Guardiola, he's taken it all on board and we're seeing the player that we all believed he could be.

"He had more talent and more ability and he's being pushed and coached in the right way and he's flourishing.

"Becks had it once, Phil Neville had it. Things happen in a tournament and it just triggers people into saying, 'He's the guy'.

"Raheem's stats and his game this year speak for themselves. But can he transfer that into an England shirt? And we've had problems down the years, different players not doing that. John Barnes was a player who couldn't do that, who got stick. Chris Waddle got stick for stuff like that.

"So we've seen that happen down the years. I think in my era Michael Owen and Becks are probably the only players who did as well if not better in an England shirt than they did in their club team."

Belfast Telegraph

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