Gareth Southgate says he is worried about the condition that his England players will be in for the European Championship next summer as he opened up on how the power of the Premier League could affect his prospects of success.
The England manager next sees his squad in march when they will play their opening three qualifying ties for the 2022 World Cup, the draw for which was made on Monday. England have been put in a group with Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino and the order of the fixtures will be announced on Tuesday.
It is unusual to play World Cup qualifiers before a summer European tournament but this is an unusual season in terms of the rejigged schedule. Southgate, who will name his Euro squad in the weeks after the opening World Cup ties, says he shares the concerns of the top Premier League managers, including Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp. They have been frustrated by the demands placed on the players and how the league has as yet not permitted use of five substitutes in matches.
“Jürgen will be like me, looking at what March looks like – when teams are at the end of the Champions League, teams are going for the league title,” Southgate said. “What we have tried to affect is that we’ve lobbied Uefa for five subs in the Nations League, which I think was a good decision. I know there are talks about the FA Cup going in that direction. They are the bits that as an FA we can control.
“I would think Jürgen would be frustrated because in Germany the DFB and Bundesliga work so closely together on these things. We don’t have that power on fixtures with the Premier League or the substitutions. I think from a national team point of view a compact season like this – it’s always a concern what you’re going to get at the end of it.”
Southgate was asked whether he would like to unite the Premier League clubs behind the cause of the national team. “It’s a lovely idea but I have to live in a pragmatic world and a world of reality,” he said. “I totally understand that we have the most intense competition at the top of our league and some very successful managers who have huge motivation themselves.
“Our league is very different. It’s one of the additional situations as England manager that you have to deal with. It’s always important to have civilised relationships with the clubs and respectful relationships. But the reality is our objectives are always slightly different. It’s not so easy to get a multinational group of managers on the same page about England winning.
“International football is strong, so is Champions League and Premier League football. So there is a different political situation there that we do our best to try and navigate but it makes our life more difficult. I think Arsène Wenger said over the years that it’s very difficult to have a successful national team and the strongest league. We are trying to do that. And will continue to try to do that.”
If this is like a season like no other, then the race for the Premier League title is shaping up as unusually open, with a host of clubs – featuring various England players – emerging as challengers. Southgate believes it can benefit him in his most immediate goal – pushing for glory at the European Championship finals next summer.
“We always want our players involved in big games. And when you look at teams that historically win international tournaments, they’ve got lots of players who have won European trophies or league titles.
“The best way to judge people is against opponents that are at the highest possible level so you can see everything about whether they can cope, how they deal under pressure. It’s a much easier guide to how they would be with England. I think it is a fascinating league season.”
The glamour ties of the World Cup qualifying campaign will pit England against Poland and Robert Lewandowski, who has 63 goals in 116 caps. Poland prevented England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup, beating them in Chorow and then holding them to a draw at Wembley. The defeat in Chorow represents Poland’s only victory against England.
Hungary, meanwhile, last beat England in 1962. England’s combined record against Albania, Andorra and San Marino reads: P14 W14.
“Inevitably it will be about what we do,” Southgate said. “We are confident about who we are as a team and the progress we are making. First and foremost with World Cup qualifiers, you have to win – the objective is to get to Qatar. If you can play well and score goals and entertain, fantastic. But first we have to win the matches.
“It is unusual to play World Cup qualifiers before a European Championship and it means you’re involved in a couple of competitions. But I wish we were still involved in three. I’m still annoyed we’re not in the Nations League semi-finals.”
Wales have been drawn in a group with Belgium, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Estonia while Scotland have Denmark, Austria, Israel, Moldova and the Faroe Islands. Northern Ireland face Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania while the Republic of Ireland have Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.