Gareth Southgate is confident England’s humiliation at the hands of Hungary will help fuel their winter World Cup charge rather than leave damaging scars.
The afterglow from last summer’s unforgettable run to the Euro 2020 final has well and truly gone, with fans turning on the Three Lions boss and his players just five months out from Qatar.
“You don’t know what you’re doing” echoed around Molineux as Hungary inflicted a 4-0 loss on Tuesday evening – England’s biggest home defeat since 1928.
Southgate is in the eye of the storm after the “most difficult night” of his near six years in charge, which ended a winless run of four Nations League matches in 11 days.
“I’ve been in football for 35 years and I’ve seen how this works,” he said. “I am a romantic in one sense, but I’m not in many others.
“I know how it works and I know how quickly things can change, and I know how quickly opinion changes.
“For sure you remember the messages you get tonight more than the ones when things are going well without a doubt and you will never forget the tough nights and how it felt.
“And, you know, making sure that you register where people were with and against you on those nights but you don’t carry it with you as a scar. It hardens you.
“It provides resolve and I’ve had plenty of those experiences in my career as a player and as a manager.
“It’s not realistic to go through six years as an England manager and not have something similar to tonight happen probably long before it has.”
Southgate knows such scrutiny and pressure is part and parcel of what used to be known as ‘the impossible job’, with the England boss quick to point to the flak his predecessors dealt with.
Back then the Three Lions shirt weighed heavy on players and Southgate hopes this group do not feel inhibited representing their country.
“This group of players have given the best outcomes for 50 years,” he said. “This is a period of English football that everybody should be really happy with.
“It’s important that they stick with a group of young players because they need it, they need the support. They need that all the time.
“I think you saw the anxiety start to creep in a bit tonight. But also, you know, this is the reality of professional football.
“It’s not all sweetness and light, and they’ve got to use those experiences to fuel themselves and harden themselves. And that will help them in the long term.”
Southgate will certainly be using the criticism that followed the Hungary defeats during June’s winless run to drive him on having learned the hard way how difficult life with England can be.
The former defender’s key Euro 96 semi-final penalty miss shaped him and perhaps explains why he seemed to be able to compartmentalise and stay cool after a loss that would leave many scrambling for answers.
“Would (the loss to Hungary) make Qatar sweeter? Well, no,” he said. “To be successful in Qatar would be sweet whatever happens so of course I’ll use it as fuel.
“When you have disappointment and you read negativity, you of course want to fight and prove people wrong, but I’ve done that all my life, so there’s not an extra incentive because of a night like tonight.
“I know nights like this can happen. They’re not pleasant. They’re not enjoyable. I’ve seen it with others. But they are the realities of football.”
Southgate will check in with his players in the coming days as he reviews things with the World Cup looming large.
The result hurts someone who joined the Football Association hoping to “try and make English football better” and will spend the new few weeks poring over the Nations League games in a bid to do that.
“I’ll take a break for a couple of weeks before the start of the next season because otherwise by the time we get further in the year, you’ll be running on empty,” Southgate added.
“This has been almost like a period of time of a group stage in Qatar and first knockout game.
“I’ll need to review the camps. I’ve got a few weeks before I go away. We’ve always put this time in to review the camps, review their games. What are the learnings? What do we need to take forward?
“That’s what we’ve always done, whether we’ve done well, or whether we’ve done poorly, and we’ll stick with that process.”
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