When Gareth Southgate urges his England team to seize the moment next summer, the tale of Stuart Pearce retiring from ­international football on the team bus might be used to emphasis the point.

It will be 24 years since Southgate missed the ­semi-final shoot-out penalty against Germany that cost the Three Lions the chance to bring football home.

The England boss was 25. He had already shed tears of ­disappointment on the ­Wembley pitch when Pearce used the journey back to the hotel to tell his team-mates his international career was over.

And that was when the full horrible reality of failure set in.

Southgate recalled: “When we lost in ’96, the most heartbreaking thing for me was when Stuart Pearce retired on the bus home.

Stuart Pearce consoles Gareth Southgate after his Euro 96 penalty shocker

“Stuart then came back – twice! But he actually did retire on the bus on the way home and that was the moment when it really sunk in.

“I thought: ‘Oh my god, that was his last chance.’ It was my first tournament – and when it’s your first tournament you think there will be loads more.

“The group we have now is slightly different, because I think most of the players are going to peak in two or four years’ time.

“But we have to find a way to get the maximum out of them, as we did two summers ago. Let’s see how far we can get.”

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Pearce retired from England, for the first time, on the team coach

Southgate has been quick to clamp down on suggestions that he has built a Golden ­Generation.

Harry Kane is the striking talisman who will surely one day shatter Wayne Rooney’s England scoring record. And Raheem Sterling has developed into a player good enough to make Real Madrid believe he can become their saviour.

But there is no Paul ­Gascoigne, David Beckham or Rooney to dominate the agenda – just as there wasn’t when England reached their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 less than two years ago.

Gareth Southgate doesn’t want his current England stars to have any regrets

Southgate knows he has a squad brimming with fearless young talent and strengthened by the row which saw Sterling pick a fight with Joe Gomez last week, rather than weakened.

And England will go on the road to prepare for the Euros, with games planned for the provinces and a pre-­tournament friendly that will be staged outside of Europe.

But while Southgate will look for his men to take ­advantage of a tournament that sees them play their three group games at Wembley next summer – and hopefully a semi-final and final – he will dial back on any unrealistic ­expectations.

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He said: “We have got some excellent players, but I would imagine Sven Goran-Eriksson thought the same of Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Steve Gerrard and Frank ­Lampard. If you’re the England manager, you’re normally in a reasonably privileged position.

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“But we have given young players their opportunity ahead of their time – and that has given us a greater depth.

“We’ve got competition now because guys believe they’ve got a chance. It will be a ­brilliant experience to have the group matches at home, but then we’re going to have to go on the road and win too.

“We could end up playing Spain in Rome – and there’s all sorts of other possible ties.”





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