Under-fire Gareth Southgate remains convinced he is the right person to lead England into the World Cup and confident that the team will click in Qatar.
Having reached the semi-finals in Russia four years ago and finished runners-up at last summer’s European Championship, the Three Lions are among the favourites to lift the trophy this winter.
But things have gone awry at just the wrong time for England, who suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Nations League top tier with a game to spare following Friday’s 1-0 loss in Italy.
Southgate was booed by some of the travelling support at San Siro after a fifth winless match, which ratchets up pressure and scrutiny with the World Cup opener against Iran looming large on November 21.
“Look, I think that’s currently where it is and I have to accept that,” he said of the negative vibe as Qatar approaches.
“I think I’m the right person to take the team into the tournament. I think it’s more stable that way, without a doubt.
“I don’t think (the) performance (against Italy) was far off and I know that’s going to get derision just because we’re on the back of a run of defeats.
“But I’ve got to separate the summer and the circumstances around the summer from (this match).”
Asked if he remains confident that England will click when the finals come around, Southgate said: “Yeah, without a doubt.
“We’re playing and have been playing some top level sides and we will be better for that.
“And the younger players, in particular, that have been in these games will have learned a lot from them.
“In the past we’ve had runs of friendlies or whatever the matches are and then we’ve gone into tournaments and that’s the first time we’ve hit high-level opposition and it’s hit us in the face quite often.
“Now we know the level, now we know what we’ve got to improve and we’ll be better placed for that by having had the quality of matches that we’ve had.”
This is Southgate’s toughest spell as England manager, with adulation from the stands replaced by audible fan frustration.
“Look, I’ve seen every other England manager have it,” he said of the criticism.
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) September 23, 2022
“I wasn’t and never have been carried away by praise. I know how the game is and it turns so quickly. And in the end, you’re judged on results.”
Southgate feels capable of handling that scrutiny having “been through pretty much everything”, including missing the key penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final
The former defender came back from that and now he feels is a time for resilience from a group he does not believe are being weighed down by the shirt – something that has been an issue in the past.
“I think the players are free to play,” Southgate said. “I think inevitably when you’re having a run where you’re not winning… and, I repeat, I have to separate the summer from this.
“The summer created pressure but we weren’t fielding our strongest team and they weren’t in good physical condition.
“We always have felt that one of the keys with England is you have to keep winning matches to keep the pressure off, which allows things to happen. Unfortunately the scenario in the summer created pressure.
“Of course tonight is going to add to the noise around that but it’s for me to deal with that. I’m the leader of the group and it’s for me to keep them on track.”
Now attention turns to Monday’s Wembley clash against Germany – the final match before a World Cup that midfielder Kalvin Phillips could miss.
Southgate acknowledges England have a “slight lack of depth in the middle of midfield” that is now being underlined by the Manchester City player’s absence with a shoulder injury.
“There’s the recovery from surgery, which there’s an estimated time (for),” Southgate said of England’s 2020–21 men’s player of the year
“Then there’s the reality of how much football he might have and how much football he’s had in the last eight weeks so he’s of course a big doubt.”