LONDON, By dropping Wayne Rooney and dragging his players out of their comfort zones, England manager Gareth Southgate has attempted to draw a line beneath the team’s calamitous 2016 and propel them to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Humiliated by Iceland at Euro 2016, England then saw Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson’s successor as manager, farcically brought down by a newspaper sting after just one game in charge.
Southgate has done his best to steady the ship, initially on a temporary basis and now full-time, and steeling his young players for adversity has been his number-one priority.
“The first thing is to recognise the performance in the Iceland game was not what everybody was expecting,” Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, explained last week.
“Gareth has been very interactive with the way he has dealt with it. He’s been asking the players what they thought and not necessarily telling them what he thinks.
“It’s been driven really by an ownership from the players. ‘What did you recognise? What was right? What was wrong? How is it going to be different next time?’
“Part of that is off the training pitch. Leadership is a big part of that, recognising and dealing with pressure.”
In a show of Southgate’s determination to rattle his players’ gilded cages, he surprised them at the start of the current international get-together by hauling them away to a military training camp.
England’s millionaire players had to erect their own tents, cook their own food and complete a gruelling obstacle course, all in the name of teaching them how to think on their feet.
“In a football match, different stuff happens — people get sent off, you go 1-0 down — and it’s about seeing how we can adapt to different situations,” said striker Harry Kane.
“Being in the woods camping or doing different obstacle courses, it was about adapting to whatever was thrown in front of us.”