Low levels of expectancy are bringing Gareth Southgate's England closer to the fans

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 06 June 2018, 14:04

GARETH SOUTHGATE signed off the idea for England to play their final World Cup warm up match in Leeds.

It’s all part of his and the Football Association’s plan to bring the squad closer to the people at a time when the Premier League couldn’t be more distant to the rank and file fan.

Southgate’s management philosophy is totally at odds with the sanitised, sterile business plan of club football in this country.

He treats his players like men, allowing them to talk freely to the media and express their opinions without fear of sanction or shackle from powerful Premier League clubs, some of which operate like state-sponsored censors in North Korea.

England will want its players to be men on the field in Russia over the coming weeks so they must learn to be men off it as well.

Facing Costa Rica at Elland Road will be good preparation for the test against fellow Central Americans Panama in the group stage on June 24.

It also happens that a large chunk of the England squad, around eight at the last count, come from Yorkshire. And Southgate lives in Harrogate too.

When the final whistle blows tomorrow night the players have a few hours off. Southgate will probably go home. And have his last night’s kip in his own bed for a few weeks.

He will sleep soundly because the nights are quiet. The World Cup party is hardly getting into gear over here.

Where once cars had England bumper stickers, wing mirror attachments and the population wore George Cross bowler hats, there is not a bit of bunting to be seen.

The frenzy was at its height when Southgate played for England at Elland Road the last time, against Italy in 2002, prior to the World Cup in Japan.

Southgate’s job now is as much to feed some positivity into the minds of the nation as much as into his players.

There is an old saying that ‘England expects’. It still stands but only for Russia 2018 England expects nothing but a sign of life in a team that was once chock full of supposed world class superstars who consistently failed to deliver.

Players like Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, who won countless trophies with their clubs but couldn’t make all that individual talent add up to a sum of its parts to even suggest there would be any kind of glory.

There were scenes of scowling players, unable to comprehend that the fans felt confused and hard dine by having just paid a small fortune and trekked halfway round the world only to be let down badly by 23 individuals.

Immediately after England were knocked out of one tournament live on terrestrial TV, millions of screens were lit up by keeper Joe Hart raking it in by advertising shampoo.

It is reasonable to suggest that there has been a growing minority who have enjoyed England’s failures as a result of what is put in front of them and the grasping attitude of some players.

With the lower expectations, less lofty surroundings of Elland Road for a send off match and a squad not quite so commercially attractive, there is a sense that England is getting back to the age old notion of just playing football again.

Insiders in the England camp tell me that the first get-together of the England team meant the WHOLE team. Not just players and coaches but all the staff were packed into a room to hear the full message from Southgate about how to approach this forthcoming tournament.

If we’re honest it’s only what the Germans, Dutch, Belgians have been doing for years: relaxing, enjoying a tournament rather than being scared witless of failure so much so that everybody is frightened to put a foot wrong or a word out of place.

At Euro 2016 Hart refused to discuss whether or not he had been behind a brilliant idea to have a players’ darts league in the RnR rooms at the team HQ. That’s paranoia and it doesn’t help anybody.

So with the football supporting public not expecting anything but defeat maybe it is time to get behind them and start willing them to win again - and get the flags out.

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