Gareth Southgate showed footage of Sir Bobby Charlton to his squad ahead of England paying tribute to the 1966 World Cup winner at Wembley.
The jewel in the crown for club and country, the news of Charlton’s death at the age of 86 on October 21 reverberated around the world.
Southgate was at Charlton’s funeral at Manchester Cathedral on Monday and further tributes will be paid to the England and Manchester United great on Friday evening at Wembley.
The Euro 2024 qualifier against Malta is the senior men’s team’s first match since Charlton’s death and a crowd mosaic is planned, along with a video celebrating his life.
There will be a pre-match ceremony, period of applause and players will wear black armbands in memory of a man whose importance to English football was reiterated to the squad this week.
“A big part of what we’ve wanted to do with our players is to talk about our identity as a team,” England boss Southgate said.
“Part of that is knowing the history of our team and having an understanding of how special some of the players that have been England internationals before are.
“We’ve had the chance to do that this week. We showed some footage of Sir Bobby to the players, the first day we arrived.
“A reminder that, of course, even a Liverpool man (like Trent Alexander-Arnold next to me) given Bobby’s performances with England can relate to his importance for English football.
“You can have a fabulous club career and an international career.
“At times those things can come into conflict because club managers of course have got to look after their own roles and responsibilities, and that can put players in difficult positions with all international teams, frankly.
“But your international team will always be there as well and if you can win something with your international team, it’s probably bigger than anything else you’re going to experience.
“So, there were lots of messages within that for all of the players but, most importantly, an incredible player, an incredible man.”
Southgate has underlined the history and importance of representing England throughout his reign, with their training pitch at St George’s Park renamed in Charlton’s honour in 2017.
The former defender has overseen an impressive turnaround in performances and a reconnection with supporters since first taking charge, initially on a temporary basis, in October 2016.
The #ThreeLions have been out at training this morning for the final time at St. George's Park this year 👊@TrentAA will join Gareth Southgate later today for our pre-Malta media conference. pic.twitter.com/t1mec0cLiE
— England (@England) November 16, 2023
That match was a home qualifier against Malta and the Mediterranean minnows return to Wembley for the first since then in Friday’s Euro 2024 qualifier.
England secured progress with two games to spare and it appears can seal their place among the top seeds by winning on Friday, yet Southgate is never far away from criticism.
“Well, the reality of that is however well we play tomorrow people will just say it’s a lower ranked opponent, so it’ll be irrelevant,” he said with a laugh.
“People are going to have opinions. I’m probably tired of trying to fight that.
“In the end, it will be what it is. So, I’ll just let our results and performances speak for themselves.
“You’re never going to please everybody, so the best way as a football manager is keep winning matches, frankly.”
Southgate heads into England’s final home match of 2023 without a glut of key players, with five withdrawing, two absent for part of this week and three new faces brought in.
Rico Lewis, Cole Palmer and Ezri Konsa will be dreaming of making their debut, but the likes of Anthony Gordon remain on the outside looking in.
The 22-year-old has shone for Newcastle this season and reports have emerged that Scotland are looking to call up the England Under-21 European champion.
“He’s a good player,” Southgate said. “He was very good with our Under-21s last year. He’s very close, I have to say.
“I like his attitude, I like the way he works so hard for the team.
“Of course, I’m sure he was hoping to get a call at this moment, but there are good players playing well in that position on the field.
“But I think, like a couple of others, they’ve always got to think a little bit further ahead as to, you know, opportunities that can come up.
“I think for somebody like Anthony that’s eminently possible with us.”