Gareth Southgate has rejected suggestions England should write off their chances at this summer’s World Cup as unacceptable and has told his young squad to “enjoy the ride”.
Southgate appeared at Wembley to discuss his fresh-faced 23-man squad for Russia and insisted he had selected the best available players, not just those with the most to learn.
Long-term number one Joe Hart was one of those who fell on the wrong side of Southgate’s judgement but the Three Lions boss was careful to stress it was not the end of the road for the 31-year-old.
His chosen goalkeeping unit of Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope have a combined nine international caps to Hart’s 75, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fabian Delph have 11 in total and Trent Alexander-Arnold has yet to feature, but Southgate countered Gary Lineker’s suggestion that the tournament should be seen as nothing more than a learning curve.
“I don’t think when you play or are involved with England you can ever write off any game or any tournament. That wouldn’t be acceptable,” he said.
“We know usually teams that win tournaments have a lot more caps than we do, a lot more experience of semi-finals and finals.
“This group, we really don’t know. We have great faith in them, we know they lack big match experience but how are they going to get that? The only way is to put them in.
“We think this is the best group of players available, we think they can be very exciting now and even more exciting in the future. I don’t want to limit what they think is possible because they’re young and hungry and they want to have a go at things.
“That’s what we’ve got to do at this tournament, really enjoy the ride.”
“We talk a lot about experience but if experience is not a good one, that can damage people’s thinking,” he said. “(But) sometimes the bad experience can be one where you suddenly realise, ‘actually, what is there to lose?’.
“That’s probably where I am in my life, so that can be a positive because you’re free of the shackles. I don’t see it as a gamble and I don’t think being free of inhibition is gambling.
“I think it’s being fearless in how we want to play, being brave enough to put people in and not think ‘well, he’s the best player but he’s young, maybe we should pick a lesser player who’s a bit more experienced’. You can make excuses at times for not putting young people in.”