England fans are back in love with the national team, says Southgate
Gareth Southgate’s side take on Colombia for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals
Gareth Southgate believes England have reconnected with fans that not so long ago were jeering his team and aiming paper planes at them.
Passion and excitement for the national team has waned in recent years, thanks in no small part to a group-stage exit at the last World Cup and the galling Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland.
Southgate was parachuted into the hot seat, having initially been reluctant to step into the Three Lions void, and has overseen an impressive change in fortunes since taking the reins.
England reached the World Cup and then the last 16 with a match to spare, with Colombia next up in Moscow this Tuesday.
“The players have been able to change perceptions of how an England team might play,” Southgate told BBC Sport. “We mustn’t lose sight of that.
“Ten months ago we qualified for the World Cup by beating Slovenia and people were throwing paper airplanes on to the pitch at Wembley.
“We were driving back to our hotel after beating Malta with some obscene chants being thrown at us from supporters.”
Southgate added: “I feel like we’ve started to connect the team with the public again.
“I feel like we’ve created excitement, like we’ve played in a style that has really shown an expression of what young English players are capable of, and I want us to continue doing that.”
England are looking to win a first knock-out match since 2006, building on the goodwill that increased with the Group G victories over Tunisia and Panama.
“I really believe in the group of players we have got,” Southgate said. “They are young. They are inexperienced.
“For some of them, this will be one of the biggest games they’ll have been involved in, but maybe not the biggest.
“We’ve always got to keep that in context for the players.”
Not being the biggest was a jibe Thibaut Courtois reportedly threw at fellow goalkeeper Jordan Pickford after Belgium’s back-ups beat England’s second string last week.
Southgate dismissed the Belgian’s off-hand remark that he would have caught Adnan Januzaj’s winner as he is 10 centimetres taller, so too any criticism for a goalkeeper who is yet to keep a clean sheet in Russia.
“I’m really pleased with his performances,” the England boss told talkSPORT.
“I don’t think he’s had much chance with the goals that have gone in, that’s a goalkeeper’s lot at times.
“He knows the belief I have in him. He is an important fit for the way we play.
“He’s got to make sure he knows the views of those that are important and, like everybody else, cut himself away from the outside views that can start to inhibit your thinking.”
When Courtois’ comments were put to him, Southgate added: “I remember when we were talking about young goalkeepers at a conference once.
“Martin Thomas, who’s a brilliant coach educator now, was under-21 goalkeeping coach and was talking about the difference between a couple of goalkeepers.
“Size-wise, he said at the end of the day, you’re talking about a Cadbury’s Creme Egg between them.
“Of course some keepers are 6ft 6in, but they have attributes that they are not so good at. And you get slightly smaller ones who are athletically better and have different skill sets.
“It’s rare to find perfection in anybody.”