Ben Stokes shares words of wisdom with Gareth Southgate's England players before Euro 2024 following a meeting arranged by the cricket captain.


In a sunny corner of the North East with which he is extremely familiar, Gareth Southgate sat down and declared that the journey down the road to Berlin has begun.

‘It was 45 days (until the final) when we joined up,’ said the England coach on Sunday at Middlesbrough’s training ground. ‘Not sure how many it is now.’

The answer to that question is 41 and reducing, and it’s only right that Southgate and his players have their eyes trained on winning Euro 2024.

‘The pressure was too much and the team weren’t ready to cope with that. Now we are. We are one of the teams that can go there and win. We have to embrace that challenge.’

The Three Lions were greeted to a talk from England test captain Ben Stokes on Saturday

The Three Lions were greeted to a talk from England test captain Ben Stokes on Saturday

Stokes watched England in training as they were put through their paces ahead of the Euros

Stokes watched England in training as they were put through their paces ahead of the Euros

Gareth Southgate has urged his team to embrace the pressure of being one of the favourites to win the European Championship

Gareth Southgate has urged his team to embrace the pressure of being one of the favourites to win the European Championship

Pressure and expectation and how to cope has already been a theme of the few days that England’s bloated squad of 33 players — minus the odd Champions League winner — have been together at Rockliffe Hall, 10 minutes outside of Darlington.

To that end, England’s cricket captain Ben Stokes — a native of nearby Durham — has already been in to talk to his footballing counterparts about dealing with the highs and lows that inevitably come with high-tariff sport.

‘That was a brilliant session,’ explained Southgate.

‘He’s one of the few English sportsmen I felt could impact them, make them think. He talked brilliantly about getting the right balance of fearlessness but recognising that anybody’s going to have nerves.

‘He was able to talk to them about some leadership aspects, the culture he had tried to create. I think that backed up some of the things we’re doing so we were pleased it reaffirmed some ideas.’

England’s recent efforts against big teams in big games are trending in the right direction at least. A qualifying win in Naples against Italy in March last year stands out. Dealing with pressure and expectation shouldn’t be the issue when they head to Germany in six days after games against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Newcastle tonight and Iceland at Wembley on Friday.

No, this time the challenges are likely to be tactical rather than psychological. For if Southgate is to guide this England squad to the deep end of Euro 2024 then he is going to have to do it a slightly different way and with that in mind the expectation lies squarely with him.

As he looks to cut seven players from his training squad to form a 26-man tournament party, he has a myriad of issues across his back four. These are largely caused by injury and lack of game time.

At the base of his midfield, meanwhile, Southgate admitted once again on Sunday that he does not have a natural partner or replacement for Arsenal’s Declan Rice. Further forward, the familiarity of the last World Cup has gone. Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling will not be in Germany and it remains possible that Jack Grealish will be cut loose at the weekend.

England are ramping up their preparations for this summer's tournament, but Southgate still needs to cut seven players from his provisional 33-man squad

England are ramping up their preparations for this summer’s tournament, but Southgate still needs to cut seven players from his provisional 33-man squad

Arguably Southgate's biggest selection headache is over who to select alongside Declan Rice in the base of England's midfield

Arguably Southgate’s biggest selection headache is over who to select alongside Declan Rice in the base of England’s midfield

It has become common to refer to this England squad as talented and that’s only right. It’s flawed too, though, and much of this week will be spent with Southgate trying to work out whether some of his attacking players — the real strength of this group — will have to be sacrificed to provide depth and cover further back in his formation.

When asked directly whether Grealish — a Manchester City treble winner this time last year — was on the cut line, Southgate’s body language was revealing. We can take it for granted that he most definitely is.

In terms of the more pragmatic side of his line-up, that is something that continues to whir around the 53-year-old’s head.

‘We have been short of these types of (holding midfielder) players for seven or eight years if I’m honest,’ he explained. ‘At times that has had an effect on how we wanted to play. There are a few different options now and whatever they are is going to be slightly new because we are talking about using a player who doesn’t play there regularly or a young player coming in there.

‘That’s where we are in terms of the players we think have the quality to do it. We are looking forward to working through that this week and having time on the training pitch is a rare commodity. It allows us to coach in more depth with the individuals.

‘We are finding out a lot with new players coming in. Of course, we are trying to work out what we need this week to help us make the best decisions for these games but also things for the next few weeks that can stand the team in good stead.

‘We haven’t wanted to just use this week as a selection camp. There are things we want to use through the whole tournament that we have tried to embed with the group. But the team will have a different feel and we think that’s the best route to go.’

In terms of a player to complement Rice, Southgate talked in detail about Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kobbie Mainoo of Manchester United and Crystal Palace midfielder Adam Wharton.

Mainoo has two England caps, Wharton does not have any and Alexander-Arnold’s forays into midfield with his country have tended to come against modest opposition. This time last year, for example, he was outstanding in England’s final international of the season but it was against North Macedonia in a game that was won 7-0.

It’s understandable, then, that Southgate was circumspect on the matter. He was happy to extol the virtues of each of the players but also added, rather succinctly, that: ‘They are not Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in terms of experience.’

Southgate talked in detail about Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who the England boss has fielded as a midfielder in his recent appearances for the Three Lions

Southgate talked in detail about Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, who the England boss has fielded as a midfielder in his recent appearances for the Three Lions

Crystal Palace youngster Adam Wharton has enjoyed a meteoric rise since his January move from Blackburn and could be given the chance to impress this week

Crystal Palace youngster Adam Wharton has enjoyed a meteoric rise since his January move from Blackburn and could be given the chance to impress this week

With his own Champions League winner Jude Bellingham given the week off to recharge after Real Madrid’s win over Borussia Dortmund, Southgate quipped on Sunday that has no wish to be told what he is up to. Safe to say, it will not be of Grealish proportions. The City player needed time to dry out a year ago.

Grealish will certainly be given the opportunity to save himself this week. All is not lost yet. His change of circumstances does illustrate how quickly things can change in football but the team that lines up against Serbia for England’s opening game of the Euros in Gelsenkirchen in 13 days should still feature eight — maybe more — of the team that ran France close in the quarter-final of the Qatar World Cup.

If Southgate is seeking any kind of comfort as he looks to navigate what may be a difficult lead up to this tournament, he may well find it right there.



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