Gareth Southgate knows criticism of England ‘is probably because of me’

Under-fire Gareth Southgate remains resolute in his focus despite accepting he is probably the reason why England’s “world is different” to any other team going for Euro 2024 glory right now.

Among the favourites to go all the way this summer, poor performances have overshadowed the Euro 2020 runners-up’s progress to the knockout phase as Group C winners.

England edged past Serbia 1-0 in their opener before riding their luck in last week’s 1-1 draw with Denmark, leading to boos at the final whistle in Frankfurt.

That anger went up a notch on Tuesday despite the 0-0 draw with Slovenia seeing them top their group, with Southgate copping flak, and almost being hit by empty beer cups, when he went to applaud fans.

But Southgate – a veteran of four major tournaments as a player and now four as manager – would rather be the lightning rod, albeit he is wary about the joy being sucked out of playing for England again.

Asked if he would rather have the criticism directed at him, he said: “100 per cent. That is my job. I have to keep the players right on track.

“On the day of the game I showed them pictures of Italy celebrating their qualification with their fans, of Hungary celebrating when they didn’t even know if they were through.

“Denmark celebrating a draw against us, and they were on two points. Our world is different at the moment and I feel that is probably because of me.

“I have to help the players as much as I possibly can because we brought the joy back into playing for England and we have to be very careful of where we head with it.”

On whether he has any regrets given he felt it was down to him, Southgate said: “No, I don’t have any regrets. But we need everybody behind the team.”

The England boss appears unmoved by the doubters as his sole focus is on guiding his players, who he felt took “a step in the right direction” against stubborn Slovenia despite the goalless draw.

A number of England’s players echoed those comments after a night when Southgate felt they faced “quite a unique environment” given the mood music.

“No, I won’t be backing away from anything,” Southgate said. “The fans were brilliant with the team in the second half. Absolutely brilliant. That’s so important.

“Whatever the feeling is towards me, you’ve got to get behind the team, and that’s crucial.

England boss Gareth Southgate points in the dugout
Gareth Southgate has received criticism at Euro 2024 (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Players have loved playing for England the last six or seven years, we’ve got to keep that — we have to keep that.

“If we don’t then, yeah. I understand the feeling towards me, but back the players, it’s crucial the fans back the players as they did in the second half.”

Preparations are now under way for Sunday’s last-16 clash with Slovakia, who were confirmed as their opponents after Wednesday’s final pool matches.

The Slovakians, who finished third in Group E, are the first opponents of a knockout phase that could yet make this a summer to cherish from an England perspective.

“We need the whole team,” Southgate said. “We need the whole team.

Slovakia's players celebrate in front of their fans
Slovakia advanced through Group E (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

“I’m proud of what the players did, they showed the right mentality, they showed bravery in a difficult environment at times.

“They showed patience and we didn’t quite get what they deserved from the game but they have to keep going and in the end things will turn.”

England need that upturn to come in Gelsenkirchen, where they narrowly beat Serbia in their Group C opener.

Southgate has to decide what, if any, changes are made against Slovakia – a match Phil Foden is expected to be back for having left the camp for the birth of his third child, the PA news agency understands.

Sunday’s last-16 tie could also see Luke Shaw make a welcome return from the hamstring issues that have kept him out of action for club and country since mid-February.

Asked how the situation was looking after the Slovenia stalemate, England’s only out-and-out left-back said: “Next game.”