London (AFP) – Following England’s laborious qualification for the World Cup, manager Gareth Southgate has acknowledged there is a lack of empathy between his team and the country’s football fans.
A sparse Wembley crowd groaned at England’s poor football and amused themselves with paper aeroplanes during Thursday’s 1-0 win over Slovenia, which secured a place in Russia for Southgate’s men.
While Southgate believes more dynamic performances will get England’s supporters back onside, he says work must also be done off the pitch to make his multi-millionaire players more relatable.
“We have to keep winning football matches. The more we can play football which excites people and score goals, that will of course start to win people over,” Southgate told reporters.
“You’re dealing with the guys. You can see that we’ve got some good characters and personalities that maybe the public don’t necessarily understand fully or know properly.
“We’ve tried to be as open as we can be. I think that’s really important.
“We’re in an era where it must be difficult for the supporters to relate to players because of what they earn and all of the hullabaloo that is around them.
“But these are good kids, desperate to play for England.”
Best known for the squandered penalty against Germany that denied England a place in the final of the 1996 European Championship on home soil, Southgate joked fans “might find it difficult to find much love for me”.
“I’ve managed to shoulder that for 20 years,” he added.
“My job, my first objective, is to get the country to a World Cup finals, then make the team as good as we possibly can and that’s what I intend to do.”
Southgate, who confirmed the Football Association are already looking at potential base camps in Russia, refused to set objectives for next year’s tournament, saying: “I don’t know how far the team can go.”
A lack of creativity in central midfield has been pinpointed as one of England’s weak points.
Asked if Jack Wilshere could provide a solution, Southgate said the injury-prone 25-year-old would need to nail down a place in the Arsenal first team in order to be considered for selection.
“We’re in a position where there’s no way we would dismiss any creative player,” said Southgate, whose side conclude their qualifying campaign away to Lithuania on Sunday.
“But of course people have to be playing and of course have to be playing at a good level.”
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