Gareth Southgate has laughed off the suggestion that England’s players might be distracted by his contract situation ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Few could have predicted just how the team’s fortunes would improve under the 57-cap former defender, who was initially brought in as interim boss following Sam Allardyce’s shock exit in September 2016.
Southgate led England on an unforgettable run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and finished third in the inaugural Nations League, before reaching this summer’s Euro 2020 final against Italy.
Such success saw Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham say during the tournament that he wanted the 51-year-old to sign a new deal beyond next year’s World Cup.
Southgate has been coy about his intentions since then as he focuses on reaching Qatar rather than what happens after it – but he does not see that distracting his players.
The England boss said, with a laugh: “I wouldn’t think they could care less, frankly! They’re not bothered who the manager is at club or country.
“One comes, one goes. The next one, they get on with it. So, no, it’s not a distraction in any way, shape or form.
“I’ve got 14 months. If you can get through 14 weeks as a manager you have done well, so it really isn’t an issue.
“I’m enjoying working with the team and I would imagine we won’t even discuss that until after the autumn now.”
England have World Cup qualification double-headers in October and November, but they would appear all but assured of progress to Qatar should they beat nearest challengers Poland on Wednesday.
The Three Lions head to Warsaw fresh from back-to-back 4-0 wins against Hungary and Andorra but Southgate warned against complacency ahead of taking on Robert Lewandowski and Co.
Asked if he gets the feeling England now expect to win rather than just hope to, he said: “It’s a good observation in that without doubt there’s that confidence in the team, which can only come from the evidence of being able to achieve results and performances that have led to those results.
“We saw that in Hungary, the way they approached the game, the belief, but also that bit of additional motivation from not having quite got to where we wanted to as well.
“That’s a good position for us to be in. But that has to be worked at every day.
“Any slipping of those standards, any suggestion we can win matches by taking our foot off the gas, then we’ll be in trouble.
“The level of competition is too high. The test of any match gives you different problems to solve during the evening.
“While it’s enjoyable to be with this team at the moment because of the things you’ve mentioned, that also can be a dangerous moment, if we allow standards to slip in any way.”
Southgate has built an impressive unit that could secure a record 12th clean sheet in a calendar year, having gone level with the England’s 1966 heroes with an 11th shut-out at the weekend.
“I don’t think you can ever under-estimate the midfield players as well,” he said of their defence.
“Defending is sometimes taken for granted and I think it’s an art in itself and I think you have to have a pride in defending and there are details that are really important organisationally.
“But also in the desire to really focus on it, take pride in it, take joy in keeping the ball out of the net, enjoy making those last-ditch clearances, making sure your positioning is correct early, making sure your body positioning is right – and communication.
“They are a group who talk well, organise each other. So there’s a real esprit de corps, if you like, about that unit and that’s how it has to be.
“They have got that, they have grasped that and their defensive record over a long period of time now is exceptional. It gives us as a bedrock for the rest of the team to go and play.”
Not only are England preventing goals but scoring them at quite a pace, with Harry Kane now on 40 for his country – level fifth with Michael Owen in the national team’s all-time rankings.
Southgate likened the Tottenham player’s ability up front to Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and Poland star Lewandowski, whose excellence into his 30s he can see Kane replicating.
“Well, in terms of Kane there is every chance he will go as long as possible because he’s an incredible professional,” the boss added.
“Normally those things are determined by how you look after your body, what you eat, how you prepare. So he’s going to do that and that’s going to give him the best chance.
“You never know what circumstance can happen around that but he will give himself the best chance.”
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