Enfield (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Gareth Southgate has revealed he is giving more responsiblity to his England players in a bid to stop them freezing in the harsh glare of the international spotlight.
Southgate is keenly aware that many of his predecessors as England manager have preferred to impose their will on the squad rather than listen to the opinions of the players.
As a former England defender, Southgate has seen the pitfalls of that approach, with stars who shined at the Premier League clubs where they were nurtured finding it harder to blossom on international duty.
The vicious criticism that comes with England’s numerous failures at major tournaments also weighs heavily on players accustomed to endless praise with their clubs, so Southgate has been trying to make his group take ownership of the team and, thus become more comfortable and accountable for their performances.
“I don’t think this job is about power, you have to be comfortable enough as a coach to be challenged,” Southgate told reporters ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley.
“I prepare the team but the most difficult thing is to step over the white line and play. You want players to make good decisions.
“Our job is to see how they might improve, not kill them for mistakes. Mistakes will happen. I made bloody millions of them.
“The less responsibility you are given, you won’t feel accountable.
“My belief is these players are more than capable of making good decisions and playing successfully against some of the best teams in the world.”
Southgate cited Terry Venables as an example of an England manager who won over a squad full of strong personalities, including Tony Adams, Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce, by letting them have their say when it came to tactics and game-planning.
The result was a free-spirited England side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 96.
– ‘Stuff the coach’ –
“With Terry, his coaching with senior players was brilliant because he allowed you to ask questions and challenge him,” said former Middlesbrough boss Southgate.
“When you have a strong dressing room and good players they lead it. It’s then how you approach that as a coach.
“They either lead because they are allowed to or think ‘stuff the coach’ and do it their way anyway.”
Southgate’s commitment to a more open management style has already extended to giving his players the chance to discuss his switch to a back three formation for last week’s clash with Germany, an alteration that appeared to work well for long periods of the 1-0 friendly defeat.
Southgate hopes that kind of debate will allow England to be more flexible with their tactics because the players will instinctively know how to respond to any switches in formation.
“It can’t be the same for every game because teams will come with different game plans. It’s important we can adapt,” he said.
“You always need to know what the players are feeling. They have experience, they know if they have the options they need.
“If there is any doubt or disagreement that is the opportunity to sort it out in the training ground and meetings.”
Determined to create an atmosphere where players feel free to speak up even in the presence of the boss, Southgate has told his team to address him as Gareth rather than the traditional football greeting of boss or gaffer.
“You can call someone boss with zero respect. It’s a slightly archaic thing we have in our game. In football it’s ingrained, but actually why do we do that?” he said.
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