Is Football no longer Coming Home? Have we lost our heads again over England at the World Cup?

“This week on Love Island,” began the narrator. “A twist. Six new girls. Six. New. Boys.”

Only, this happened last year, and will most probably be flogged to death until we’ve long since stopped watching.

“Like Big Brother, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent,” as the country’s future Prime Minister Danny Dyer said last night on Good Evening Great Britain.

Even the contestants knew about Casa Amor. The narrative has been just as predictable from the moment England arrived in Russia: give them what they want. But for how long will journalists following England at a World Cup be relevant?

England Media Access - 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaFrom the sparsely populated mixed zone following their opening group game win over Tunisia in Volgograd, it was apparent that the rest of the world don’t think much of England’s chances of winning the tournament.

And yet the subsequent 6-1 thrashing of Panama led to a sense of euphoria in the press box not seen since Euro ’96, brought cascading back down to earth by the B team’s 1-0 defeat by Belgium that has created a “sense of anti-climax’ according to the Guardian’s London football correspondent Dominic Fifield.

Speaking on the Sunday Supplement podcast, he said: “There were too many changes, it was too disruptive, and I think it’s exposed the depth of squad quality that we’ve got. It feels a bit of a waste.” But has it really?

Does it merely show what happens when you throw a group of players together without a competitive match between them in over a month?

GettyImages-986404052.jpgThose who steadfastly defend Gareth Southgate for his team selection – which saw eight changes to the side which beat the Panamanians – claim this might prove a masterstroke. The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel claimed he turned the World Cup into Sports Day.

Make no mistake, the pressure would most certainly still be on if England were facing Japan in the last 16. It would be even greater had the ‘A team’ lost to Belgium’s reserves. That would have been a sack race of a completely different kind.

By risking and ultimately relinquishing England’s position as group winners, Southgate has not only aligned England on the easier side of the draw; he has preserved the confidence of his leading men.

Matt Dickinson, chief sports writer at The Times, chose the word ‘deflating’. “As if the air had gone out”.

Southgate’s strategy was always to win this game, but when he moved Marcus Rashford to right wing-back to make room for Danny Welbeck, the extent to which he was willing to salvage a draw was revealed.

GettyImages-986359798.jpgSouthgate has always been about the long-term, and one defeat with a huge asterisk beside it should not lead to loaded back-page questioning of his tactics.

The ‘build ‘em up to knock ‘em down’ mind-set revisited by Matthew Syed in his Times column this week is now so well known by the public that it’s become a parody of itself.

Did fans truly think they’d win the World Cup after beating Panama and Tunisia? Or are they not just allowed to reminisce about their youth, wearing knock-down Fred Perry polos, singing Fat Les whilst drinking watered-down lager? The criticism of Southgate seems just as disingenuous.

The assumption, of course, is that beating a side incapable of gracing the English third tier had created a sense of momentum. It has been made by those who have travelled and reported on England for decades.

The core group of players who featured in the opening two games have already returned to full-blooded training today without the need for a recovery day ahead of the shorter visit to Moscow to face a Colombia side who were made to fight until the last second by Senegal.

The same Colombia side that is likely to be without James Rodriguez and who indeed were beaten by Japan in their opening game, albeit with 10 men for much of that match.

“The concern is we’ve gone down the same route as 2016,” continued Fifield, referencing the weakened team selected in the final group game against Slovakia. But why do we love so much to stick to this same narrative?

Why do we question when England will ever win a tournament again every two years when we seem to lose our heads at the thought of two similar scenarios being played out in entirely different circumstances?

This, don’t forget, will be like a home game for Colombia. Why? Because there will be thousands more yellow shirts in the stands. They will drown out the few thousand England supporters who have paid lip service to the scaremongering headlines that dissuaded them from visiting this wonderful country.

“The difference with Roy Hodgson’s team at the Euros was that team didn’t have any cohesion already,” reasoned Dickinson. “We were a mess, frankly. It felt like Roy was making it up as he went along in that tournament.

“Now, we know the first team very clearly, but I worry less about the word ‘momentum’. Obviously, all of us are concerned about Colombia, and it’ll be a lot harder than beating Japan. But if I was Harry Kane, or Jesse Lingard, I shouldn’t have lost my momentum.”

But the logic was lost of The Sun’s chief football reporter Neil Ashton, possibly from years of watching England from a privileged position, possibly from being drawn back to that same old narrative that sells.

GettyImages-986397622.jpg“At the full-time whistle against Belgium, I felt flat. Matt talks about tournament momentum and why that should affect Harry Kane, but I definitely felt there was a change of mood when the final whistle went.”

The Belgium defeat has created such a disparity even among those within the media, that being deemed ‘philosophical’ by some is being viewed as ‘using one’s brain’ by others.

Southgate was forced to backtrack on his outspoken belief that the English media should seek to act in the country’s best interest, and by rephrasing his views the following day, his next press conference will be one to monitor with a close eye.

He’ll be asked if he feels the media’s reaction to the Belgium defeat was fair. There’ll be several loaded questions looking backwards rather than forwards. It will be the biggest test of his tenure, getting the likes of the Mirror’s John Cross, who claimed his ‘halo has slipped’ back onside. But should he really be doing this when he has a last 16 match to focus on?

He won’t take kindly to some of the views shared in today’s national newspapers, designed solely to put pressure on him and his players.

Jordan Pickford, who has the potential to become the world’s best goalkeeper, has been grossly victimised in some quarters for the way he made a save in the first half before not keeping out Adnan Januzaj’s fine winner.

GettyImages-986372186.jpg“We have to trust the strategy, but some of it was unnecessary,” continued Fifield.  “I can’t believe Harry Kane will have wanted to sit on that bench last night.” But should we be assuming that had he played, England would have won, Kane would have scored and avoided injury?

What was the greater risk? Where would the momentum be now had England lost their talisman despite beating the Belgians? Southgate has taken what could be his only chance at guiding England at a World Cup to do things his way.

“You’ve got that problem in training.” Again, Ashton is wide of the mark. When you get to the sharp end of the World Cup, ask any player, and you don’t have this problem in training. You’re playing matches and recuperating in between.

When have you heard of a player getting injured in training at this stage of a World Cup? You could probably count them on one hand, in 21 editions. Metatarsal injuries happen in games.

GettyImages-977042740.jpg“He’ll be chomping at the bit on Tuesday,” Fifield said of Kane. “He wants to be two, three goals ahead in this race for the Golden Boot, let alone propelling the team forward.”

He’s right about the first part, but why should Kane’s desire to win an individual trophy come before the prime objective of creating the best potential set of circumstances for the team to win the ultimate prize?

The more astute point being lost is that England, whoever is in defence, have looked suspect at the back. Harry Maguire and John Stones are vulnerable. These are not Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. Both they and Pickford are a work in progress, and we all know this.

If Radamel Falcao is firing, that is why England will go out of the World Cup, not this tedious, phoney war seen in the past 24 hours… between the national team, the media and its favourite narrative.

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Loading up, Ashton asks, “Do we sometimes see that managers get carried away? That they meddle and start getting too clever, mixing it up, making too many changes and tactics along the way?”

“We just need to place out trust in him,” replied Fifield. “Because if we win the Colombia game –”

“We’ll be back to where we were,” finished Ashton. To where, exactly? To football coming home?

It is the media who shouldn’t be getting carried away. Southgate has kept his head when many appear to have reverted to type in losing theirs.

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France happy to go under the radar, so why is momentum so important for England?

In 19 days’ time, two sides will walk out at the Luzhnicki Stadium to contest the World Cup final.

The shadow of France’s winning team of 20 years ago still hangs over the class of 2018, but after failing to excite the Moscovites in their first visit, few should discount their chances of returning to take up one of the dressing rooms on July 15.

Few in Paris will see a soporific draw with Denmark as diminishing their hopes of glory in Moscow next month, when other nations have feared that momentum might be lost with a poor showing in a dead rubber such as this.

A depleted France full of players who may never start another game out in Russia were unspectacular, like they were in a turgid stalemate with Switzerland at the end of the Euro 2016 group stage, but they ultimately grew in stature and were denied in the final by Portugal.

Denmark were in no real rush themselves, despite over half an hour in the second half when in the knowledge that it would take three unanswered Australian goals against Peru to threaten their progress.

This was game 37 of a thrilling World Cup that had been littered with controversy and incident, but there was nothing of the sort in the Russian capital, nothing to break the stand-off, the sense of ennui.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia“Australia have 25 minutes to find three goals, it’s some run-chase,” quipped the unimpressed Clive Tyldesley on ITV.

The Danish coach Age Hareide had appeared to light the blue touch paper by claiming France were nothing special beforehand, and their opponents did very little to disprove that opinion.

This was a forewarning for Belgium’s clash with England in Kaliningrad, but should Didier Deschamps be concerned? Denmark themselves were reluctant to break from their rigid defensive lines against a weakened team, but they are not expected to advance deep into the tournament.

The debate is over whether France can flick the switch. Time will tell if their failure to find any rhythm and refusal to show imagination in reaching the knockout stages will have a knock-on effect.

Despite the chorus of boos at the full-time whistle, Deschamps is still on track to join an elite group of men to win the tournament both as a player and manager. Only Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany have done so.

Denmark v France: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup RussiaStill the critics voice their doubts, with Zinedine Zidane and Arsene Wenger out of work, but after six years in charge, this was Deschamps’ 80th match at the helm, more than any French coach since the Second World War.

He won’t be cowed into entertaining at all costs, and by producing a swashbuckling victory over a second-string Belgium on Thursday, England could just as easily sleepwalk into a sea of trouble when they have the luxury of choosing a more calculated approach.

The Danes knocked France out of the World Cup when they arrived in Japan and South Korea as champions in 2002 – their only victory in their last seven encounters – but they didn’t look like improving that record here.

There was no Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba or Kylian Mbappe in the starting line-up but France are hardly short of options. They needed just a point to top the group and the Danish assistant John Dahl Tomlinson was listening in via radio to events between Australia and Peru 1,500km away in Sochi.

He will have removed his earpiece long before the end, but despite it being immediate from kick-off that Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen would line up in midfield in a defensive formation, Denmark made a bright start.

Andreas Cornelius, once of Cardiff City, won his first aerial duel to find Martin Braithwaite but the Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci waved away his appeal for a penalty under the challenge from Presnel Kimpembe.

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A fortuitous French win against the Australians followed by a far from convincing victory over Peru had hardly set the pulses racing for one of the pre-tournament favourites and stray passes in the opening 10 minutes, whilst a precursor for what was to come, initially gave the Danes further encouragement.

But France finally enjoyed a nice pattern of play with added penetration as Olivier Giroud won a corner after Lucas Hernandez went to ground with Henrik Dalsgaard for company. Thomas Lemar’s set piece was glanced harmlessly wide by Raphael Varane.

News filtered through that Andre Carrillo had given already-eliminated Peru the lead against Australia. The pockets of red voiced their approval, the pressure eased despite another penalty appeal after Djibril Sidibe’s cross struck the hand of Mathias Jorgensen from point-blank range.

A wonderful cross from Cornelius from a Denmark breakaway saw a combination of Steve Mandanda and Hernandez do just enough to thwart Christian Eriksen at his feet, before Ousmane Dembele shot a yard wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s post, but neither keeper were forced to excel with both teams knowing they were safely qualified with a low-key draw.

Momentum was frequently lost as Denmark slammed the door shut through their use of five defenders. France looked to the flanks given Giroud’s aerial threat, but both Sidibe and Hernandez struggled to find him.

The best chance of the half appeared to fall to Giroud, but it came after Antoine Griezmann had already been flagged for offside before the Chelsea striker blazed over.

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A tepid opening 45 minutes ended with Jorgensen cynically hauling down the Atletico Madrid man on the halfway line. Ricci wouldn’t even allow the free-kick to be taken, almost out of anger at the poor quality on show.

Into the second period and Paulo Guerrero doubled Peru’s lead, which threatened to kill this simmering contest stone dead. But a spill from Mandanda from Eriksen’s dipping free-kick very nearly presented an opening to Cornelius before the former Crystal Palace stopper recovered just in time.

Substitute Nabil Fekir lashed a shot into the side-netting before Mbappe was brought on for the last knockings, but it appeared a deal had been struck between both managers.

Giroud backed into Simon Kjaer seeking a penalty, but the match official waved play on. After the farce of Monday night, this was a game that craved a moment of VAR drama, like Sweden versus South Korea had done so earlier in the tournament.

The Russian neutrals began to jeer with 10 minutes remaining. Nobody would get hurt if it remained 0-0, but this was a victim of circumstance. The chance to store some energy would always be taken when it was clear Peru would defeat Australia in Sochi.

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The twinkling toes of Mbappe nearly presented France with a late winner but Christensen snuffed out the danger as discontent showered down from the stands at the full-time whistle.

But this was job done for France, who had created very little momentum in their first two games to feel that any was significantly lost.

If Deschamps’ side return to Moscow in a little under three weeks, the joke will be on those who sought swiftly to erase this gentle snore-fest from their memories.

The obvious argument is that England should seek to now avoid this apparent stagnation in their final group game, but it is just as presumptuous to claim that they, like Croatia later on Tuesday, haven’t peaked too soon if they do take the foot off the gas.

The unspoken truth is that Gareth Southgate is currently the English media’s puppet, swift to backtrack when showing any signs of speaking out last week following Steve Holland’s team-sheet “leak”.

Both he and those who attend his press conferences appear determined to stay on message when it comes to facing Belgium this week, highlighting the need to seek nothing but victory despite the obvious pitfalls which might come with falling on the tougher side of the draw.

Southgate has gone further, referencing England’s solitary victory in knockout tournaments in 16 years, but the unsubstantiated euphoria – seen in the cringeworthy beer-throwing gardens – created by wins over Tunisia and Panama should not mask the fact that this young side might in fact benefit from taking France’s route of going under the radar.

Germany’s World Cup defence starts with chastening defeat as wall joke backfires

“Sorry Mexico, today we build the wall,” ran a headline on Sunday morning in conservative newspaper Die Welt. But the joke was on Germany after a first loss in a World Cup opener since 1982.

The tone of the front pages was far more morose 24 hours later, with one Bild columnist asking, “Has anyone seen our world champions?” while the Berliner Kurier blasted the national team with “Fiasco instead of fiesta.”

Coach Joachim Low remains upbeat about his side’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages in Russia – with games to come against South Korea and Sweden – but there have been concerns about preparations for this tournament for some time back on home soil.

This was Mexico’s second win in just 12 meetings with Germany – the last coming in a friendly in 1985 – but there are suggestions these were problems that had simply come home to roost.

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The world champions trounced Mexico 4-1 at the Confederations Cup 12 months ago, but former goalkeeper Oliver Khan was not alone in his post-match assessment that Sunday’s 1-0 defeat in Moscow had been the result of nothing new.

Hirving Lozano’s winning goal – 10 minutes before half-time – was no less than Mexico deserved with Low having been tactically outsmarted by his opposite number Juan Carlos Osorio.

Osorio had been booed by his own supporters in the Central Americans’ last game – the send-off victory over Scotland – and there had been fears of more upheaval after claims in the Mexican media that Javier Hernandez had thrown a pre-World Cup birthday party involving escorts.

But representing his country turns Hernandez into a different animal as he led the line and played a key role in Lozano’s decisive strike, while Germany looked slow and cumbersome in retreating when moves broke down.

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In not tracking back, there was an arrogance about a performance that lacked defensive intelligence. Germany improved following a naïve first-half, but with more composure, Mexico could have won more handsomely.

Indeed, this was Die Mannschaft’s oldest starting XI for a World Cup match (27 years and 310 days) since the 2002 final against Brazil – the moment when the nation began their last major rebuild which led to six successive semi-final appearances at major tournaments.

Low has little time to devise a new plan of attack, and his post-match analysis suggests he will keep the faith in those who had shown a severe lack of guile and pace in transition.

“In tournaments, losing a match can happen and you have to accept it. We will not become reckless,” he said.

“We will continue to look forward. There is no reason to panic. We have two matches and ample opportunities to correct this result.”

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Mexico were ruthless and almost appeared to offer Germany the ball back in order to exploit the space. According to reports, when Lozano scored, he triggered an earth tremor back in the city of palaces.

“Our motto was play with the love of winning and not the fear of losing,” Osorio said afterwards.

Low had no Plan B. Germany were behind for just eight minutes at the last World Cup, but here they were not able to solve that problem, with the space left behind down the flanks for Mexico ‘more like runways’, according to German football expert Archie Rhind-Tutt.

Mats Hummels was the most forthright in his views with the Bayern Munich defender saying in his post-match interview that Germany simply were unable to heed to wake-up call from Saudi Arabia in their final warm-up game – a laboured 2-1 victory that ended a six-match winless run.

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He said:  “If seven or eight players attack, then it’s clear the offensive force is greater than the defensive stability. That’s what I often talk about internally, to no affect. Our cover wasn’t good, too often it was just Jerome [Boateng] and I at the back.”

But the inquest into this ‘embarrassing start’ – as Bild labelled it on Monday morning – focuses on the displays of Hummels and those who have formed the backbone of recent successes.

To the German press, it is too simplistic to say that the world champions lost because Manchester City’s Leroy Sane is not in the squad. It was the lack of protection provided to the defence by Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos that has been pinpointed as a major source of concern heading into the Sweden game next Saturday.

In short, Germany’s system played into Mexico’s hands, and Khedira looked ponderous and problematic in the centre of midfield, where Mexico had constantly put a man alongside Kroos and deliberately allowed Khedira to see the ball, knowing that he was ineffective.

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Khedira has lost both pace and speed of thought, while Joshua Kimmich was exposed positionally. Marven Plattenhardt had never played a tournament match before, but Mexico didn’t opt to exploit the full-back, choosing rather to use Carlos Vela often as an additional midfielder to squeeze Kroos when in possession.

The tactics worked a treat as Mexico attacked through Lozano down the opposite flank and they could have scored four or five times on the counter-attack. Osorio was expected to deploy the high press, and they were brave by keeping three players forward in defending set pieces, seeking to pick off their opponents on the break.

The result leaves Germany facing an uphill task to qualify from the group, where finishing second might result in the somewhat daunting prospect of encountering a Brazil side in search of avenging the Mineirazo of four years ago.

Today, it is the Germans who are in need of soul-searching, and the six-day wait to take to field in Sochi. Low’s side had 26 shots – the most without scoring in a World Cup game since Portugal’s failure to net against England with 29 in 2006.

The closest they came was through Julian Brandt’s instinctive shot that clipped the post from outside the box, but there was no need for gravity-defying stops, no Alamo on Guillermo Ochoa’s goal.

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

The signs of weakness were there even in 2014. They were thankful to Manuel Neuer at times during the 0-0 draw with Algeria during the group stages in Brazil, while Portugal were profligate before being trounced 4-0 in the opening game.

Of course, Germany are not the only reigning world champions to lose in their opening defence, with several of the pre-tournament favourites yet to find their groove. There have been suggestions the break between the club season finishing and World Cup starting is too long.

This is the third consecutive World Cup in which the reigning champions have failed to win their opening match, while other nations – most recently Spain in 2010 – have gone onto lift the trophy having lost their opener.

All is not lost, but six points from their remaining two group games are a must.

Who is Marvin Plattenhardt and why are Everton after him?

Everton are in talks with Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin over the signing of defender Marvin Plattenhardt, but who is he and what would he bring to the club?

The German full-back is currently preparing for the World Cup, but the Blues are keen to push through a deal before a ball is kicked in Russia.

Put simply, Everton are in desperate need of a left-back. They’ve needed one to provide Leighton Baines with competition for several years, but previous managers have opted to strengthen elsewhere.

David Moyes and Roberto Martinez both used centre-halves Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz to cover the England left-back during rare moments of his absence through injury, while Luke Garbutt convinced neither that he was an able deputy.

Ronald Koeman’s problems only really started to surface after his refusal to act on what appeared patently obvious to fans last summer when he brought in right-back Cuco Martina on a free transfer, convinced he could operate on the opposite flank.

New boss Marco Silva is keen to avoid the same pitfalls, and while talk of Baines’ departure in order to free up transfer funds has proven inaccurate, it is high time the club began preparing his successor after 11 seasons at the club.

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Bristol City’s Joe Bryan was linked with a move to Goodison Park while Sam Allardyce was in charge, but Silva has been sounding out his own targets and Plattenhardt could be his first signing since being appointed this month.

Everton’s new director of football Marcel Brands has been tracking the Hertha Berlin man for the past few seasons while in his role at PSV Eindhoven, and it has been swiftly agreed that the left-back deficiency at Finch Farm should not be fixed from within.

Antonee Robinson earned his first senior call-up with USA after an impressive season on loan in the Championship with Bolton Wanderers – playing in the 1-1 draw against France last week – but he is not yet ready to make the step up in class to Premier League level.

Plattenhardt is not someone who is overly reliable defensively, but his attacking instincts down the left would complement the runs of Seamus Coleman on the opposite flank. Everton were at their best last season when Baines returned to bring balance to their attacks, and it is what he contributes going forward that has attracted interest.

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With six caps for Germany to his name, he is battling it out with Jonas Hector to be selected as the national team’s first-choice left back at the World Cup, and as such, he represents a more experienced target than Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, another named linked with a move further south.

Everton will have scouts out in Russia to watch Joachim Low’s opening game against Mexico in Moscow on Sunday hoping that Plattenhardt gets the nod, and the 26-year-old is equally adept playing at wing-back should Low opt to play a three-man defence.

Silva’s preferred formation is 4-2-3-1, but it is the player’s willingness to get forward as well as providing a lethal free-kick delivery that has caught his eye.

Plattenhardt scored three set pieces during the 2016/17 season, contributing a team-high seven assists during that campaign as Hertha finished sixth, but the club could only muster a mid-table finish last term.

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He still managed to provide eight assists for his club, and it is this creativity that has drawn interest previously from Watford. With his contract at Berlin running until June 2023, it may take a significant fee to prise him away from the Bundesliga.

Plattenhardt remains one of the least well-known of the 23-man squad for the reigning world champions, but Silva is aware that should he become Germany’s first-choice left-back at the tournament, his price tag is only likely to rise. Everton want to strike a deal with Hertha before the tournament gets underway.

His confident manner with the German media and stylish appearance suggests he could become a cult figure on the blue half of Merseyside.

Everton improved significantly after Baines return from injury following a three-month lay-off, but Plattenhardt would not be put off by arriving at Goodison in need of fighting for his place in the team given his battle with Hector at international level.

He told Sport Bild: “If you believe what you hear and read, then Hector is set in stone and I’m his back-up. But I’ll show everything in training so my team-mates know they can rely on me.

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“Of course, I want to play. It wouldn’t be nice to head home having not played.”

Having surprised many back in Germany, but not himself, in surviving the cut from 27 players to 23, the former Nurnberg defender may relish the opportunity of becoming the long-term replacement for Baines.

Having missed 15 games with a calf injury, it’s imperative that the 33-year-old is provided with cover, and aged just seven years younger than the Everton icon, Silva may look to Plattenhardt as a ready-made replacement.

 

England must create a castle for themselves in no-thrills Repino

Nineteenth Century realist artist Ilya Repin’s most famous piece, The Barge Haulers on the Volga, depicts 11 men physically dragging a barge on the banks of the Volga River.

Ten look defeated. In sweltering conditions, they are at the verge of collapse from exhaustion. But a brightly-coloured youth stands out in the centre, fighting against leather binds to drag his comrades forward.

Ironic, then, that England manager Gareth Southgate should choose Repino, this backwater close to the Baltic Sea as his squad’s World Cup base, where temperatures struggle to rise above 16 degrees Celsius in June.

Little did Repin know back then that the village named after him would see a band of brothers, 145 years later, arrive on these shores, ready to work to achieve a common goal.

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While the artist’s painting is the unflinching portrayal of backbreaking labour, representing your country at the World Cup is a million miles away from the inhumane suffering of the working-class during 19th Century Russia, but the symbol of 11 men pulling in the same direction, upstream against the current, rings true of this unfancied England.

Only there are no superstars, no real stand-out youth shining brightly, but in the village that translates in Russian as “rest and relaxation”, England arrive on Tuesday re-energised and ready to work. It is a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, but fears of boredom will again linger.

Southgate’s admission to banning sweets from the Starbucks at St George’s Park may have been designed as a way of allowing his players to get used to the stark contrast they shall experience this month compared to the many distractions back home.

Despite having just four hours of darkness during the summer due to its northern location, this is a sleepy village with one or two decent restaurants and a long beach, but there is very little else.

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Another immediate challenge created by England’s choice of base is that it could lead to significant temperature swings. Volgograd, where England face Tunisia some 1,000 miles away from their training base, was a scorching 29 degrees last week while it was 11 degrees in Repino.

The base is surrounded by woodland. This rural oasis will be where England rest and recharge in between matches, first for six days between the opener against Tunisia and their second match with Panama, and then for another four ahead of facing Belgium.

Plenty of time sitting around, then. Tucked away in the forest, with police officers standing guard, under the gaze of myriad security cameras, this hotel will be on lockdown with England taking over the facilities for the duration of their time in Russia.

The enthusiastic locals have been aware of the team’s pending presence for some time, but it hasn’t stopped them from being somewhat bemused by the wall-to-wall media attention that has arrived at their door. Here, there is no such thing as a 24-hour news channel with camera crews arriving long before the players themselves.

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Repino’s high street is located a five-minute drive away from England’s hotel. There’s little more on offer but a supermarket and a small disco. From the very modest train station, St Petersburg is half an hour away. The players’ wives and girlfriends will stay here, where there are plenty more activities and sight-seeing.

The clunkily-named Forrestmix Club Hotel has received poor reviews from guests – who criticised the accommodation’s food and “chemical” swimming pool – while locals say no-one visits here in June because it’s still far too cold.

The bold red décor in this four-star hotel is bordered by prison-like gates, and a night’s stay would set back the intrepid traveller £104. England have brought along their own chef while two five-tonne lorries will provide the travelling party with everything they need.

But while there are concerns that Repino could replicate the ennui of Rustenburg, eight years ago in South Africa, the move away from the pampered bubble could work in England’s favour.

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Stripped back, Repino – with a population of around 2,000 – is a far cry from past luxuries, and this secluded 107-room hotel on the Gulf of Finland has been cherry-picked by the FA out of around 70 options in the FIFA World Cup brochure.  Southgate visited the location before qualification was assured last October.

The challenge of keeping minds trained on the job in hand, while creating a bond between all 23 players, is not exclusive to England, but personalities will have to come to the fore, camaraderie must replace cliques of previous tournaments.

All 32 teams at the World Cup will face the same obstacle, but former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson feels Southgate’s players may need to work harder to fill the time based on the cultural differences.

He recalled in a recent interview with the BBC how Italian players drink coffee at nearby cafes, keeping each other company for hours without the need for additional stimulation.

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But an oft-cited episode from England’s forgettable 2010 World Cup was Jermain Defoe’s admission he watched the entire DVD of Wayne Rooney’s wedding on a rest day. The FA have supplied camps with computer games and table-tennis tables for several years in an attempt to break up the monotony, but there is only so much it can do.

It is a calculated risk by Southgate choosing somewhere that seems so similar to the purpose-built facility elected for by Fabio Capello in South Africa.

Rob Green, who was ruthlessly dropped after his mistake in the opening match against USA, hopes Southgate’s time as a player with England during the 1990s helps turn training camps into a place where friendships, and momentum, can be built.

“In South Africa, we were responsible for nothing,” he told BBC 5Live last week. “They’ll be waiting for Love Island to come on later, lounging around waiting for the next training session.

“After the Germany defeat [in Bloemfontein] we all sat down and had a drink. The feeling was, ‘Why didn’t we do it a lot earlier?’ We were getting on a lot better. It was a shame we hadn’t done it sooner.”

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Chris Waddle, on the same programme, remembered the time he room-shared with Paul Gascoigne at Italia ’90 – “getting around three hours kip in the entire six weeks” – while Paul Ince and Ian Wright also created a strong rapport they took onto the pitch during get-togethers.

What Southgate has sought is a happy medium between the tedium of Rustenburg and delights of Baden-Baden, a luxury hotel in the Black Forest, which Eriksson said he hoped would act as a launch pad for success in 2006.

But the victimisation of Raheem Sterling by one media outlet in particular may have done just that. The togetherness of this current crop under Southgate, with the emphatic response in support of their team-mate, is indicative of the fruits of the FA’s labour since launching the England DNA in December 2014.

It was Txiki Begiristain, during his time working with Pep Guardiola, who would remind players that their talent has taken them to the dressing-room, but it is their behaviour that will determine how long they would stay.

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Putting the team above the individual has led to further success for the pair at Manchester City, and the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Fabian Delph and Sterling should seek to create the same environment within the England camp under a manager who is the embodiment of hard work.

Eriksson still does not regret allowing his players time with their wives and girlfriends in Germany for the 2006 World Cup, and Southgate has similarly sought to treat his players like adults. Cutting off his squad members from their family and social media would not be in keeping with his attempts at creating a connection with supporters.

Parents, who have been the bedrock for their sons throughout their formative years, deserve to be with them at a World Cup, the pinnacle of a player’s career and reward for their sacrifices. Further support will be on offer through a psychologist, who will be present at the camp at all times.

But in 1962, the England squad would be far from bored despite having just playing cards, a golf course, snooker table and cinema club for entertainment. There were no televisions. A library was seen as excessive.

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Now, there are games consoles and players can FaceTime their loved ones. There’s a communal element to games such as Fortnite, spearheaded by Dele Alli, where bonds can be created by playing against team-mates and members of the public.

Southgate said on Monday: “Concentration levels must be high, but there must be a balance. They are young people, but it can’t be 24 hours a day, otherwise you won’t get the best out of them.”

The creation of a bubble cut off from the rest of those celebrating a World Cup has always been the first stick to beat England with in previous much-maligned editions, but Southgate appears to understand his role more as a leader than a club-manager. It has earned him the universal respect of the group.

Roy Hodgson’s England opted a five-star hotel, the Auberge du Jeu de Paume, as their base in Chantilly during Euro 2016, but expectations this time are in keeping with the modest backdrop to England’s final preparations.

Sardinia was the destination in 1990, while there was five-star treatment in Krakow in 2012. Rio de Janeiro followed two years later, having listened to the players’ desires not to be isolated from “civilisation”.

England veered away from initial plans to stay in Copacabana, moving to Sao Conrado further south of the city, where there was very little to see or do except play golf at the Gavea Golf Club.

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Like their surroundings for the coming month, England’s chosen hotel, the Royal Tulip, was far removed from the standard of accommodation experienced elsewhere by those multi-millionaires, close to Rocinha – one of the biggest favelas in Rio.

Transport to and from the training ground proved problematic due to rush-hour traffic, however, while the city’s reputation for violence only added to factors counting against it as the ideal base.

Southgate once took his squad and backroom staff to train at the Marines base in Devon, and as England head for Russia, he may point his players in the direction of the barge haulers in Repin’s masterpiece.

They will be aware from the outset that any hopes of Michelin-star cuisine and high-end spa treatments will not be forthcoming in their quest for glory.

A 13ft fence has been erected around their training camp at the Zelenogorska Spartak ground to keep out spies. England will learn soon enough they must create a castle for themselves.

Pickford is the leader of the pack at England and Everton… he’s the kingpin with the world at his feet

When Jordan Pickford was unveiled as Everton’s new £30million goalkeeper 12 months ago, there were more than a few who baulked at the transfer fee for a 23-year-old with just 31 Premier League appearances under his belt.

It was a club-record deal at the time [Gylfi Sigurdsson would break it later last summer when he signed for £45m from Swansea], and remains a British record for a goalkeeper.

He is the third most expensive shot-stopper in the world, behind Ederson [Benfica to Manchester City, £34.7m] and Gianluigi Buffon [Parma to Juventus, £33m], but Pickford was unflappable, keeping his head when all about him were losing theirs during a season of turmoil at Everton.

“In football you get only one shot and I’ve always taken it,” Pickford said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley. “I don’t show any pressure on the pitch, I show I can play out from the back and I don’t feel nervous.

“There’s so many good goalkeepers in England you’ve got to be at your very best [to be selected].

“We’ve got likes of Popey, me, Butland, [Ben] Foster and [Alex] McCarthy, so there’s a lot of competition. But I can only focus on myself and as a goalkeeper you’ve got to have mental toughness – that’s something I’m good at.”

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It’s not something that can be said for every talented professional. Davy Klaassen was brought to Everton on the same day as Pickford – June 15, 2017 –for £24m from Ajax, but their careers have headed in opposite directions.

The midfielder featured three times as a substitute this year under former manager Sam Allardyce, and he missed out on the recent Holland squad for international friendlies against Slovakia and Italy while Everton are in talks with Turkish club Besiktas over an initial season-long loan move.

Pickford merely continued his ascent with performances that at times kept defeats respectable, making an early impression as he played a vital role in the club booking their place in the Europa League group stages courtesy of his penalty save in the third qualifying round second leg against Hadjuk Split.

Unsurprisingly, he cleared up at the end-of-season club awards night in Liverpool, winning a hat-trick of prizes: the Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season at a ceremony at Philharmonic Hall.

It has led to Pickford being linked with a move to Bayern Munich ahead of the World Cup, with the Bavarians reportedly seeing him as a long-term replacement for Manuel Neuer.

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A host of elite European clubs will be monitoring his performances given the now-annual speculation of a goalkeeping merry-go-round intensified by Thibaut Courtois’ likely departure from Chelsea.

New Everton manager Marco Silva stressed at his first press conference this week that he will try to attract ‘big names’ to the club this summer, but the Portuguese should not be caught out by the interest in his No 1.

The likely departure of Joel Robles after five years this summer offers the chance to bring in a deputy that can push Pickford onto the next level.

It has the potential to be problematic given the difficulty of usurping the 24-year-old as Everton first-choice keeper, but contingency plans must be put in place if the vultures begin to circle.

Pickford, who has been designated the No 1 shirt by Southgate, is still short of being world class and he will relish a greater challenge next season if Silva can find the ideal understudy, given that he has thrived with competition for his place in England’s side.

Everton v Southampton - Premier League

At 25 and with seven caps to his name, Jack Butland has been on the international scene as part of England senior squads for far longer than Pickford.

He was named as one of the standby options at Euro 2012 before being called up for the tournament in Poland and Austria after John Ruddy sustained a broken finger.

He was overlooked as the third-choice option by Roy Hodgson in favour of Fraser Forster at the last World Cup and a fractured ankle ruled him out of the European Championships two years ago.

Butland is now fit and can take little blame for Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League last season, but Southgate has made his decision.

The visit of Costa Rica to Elland Road on Thursday could bring an eighth cap, but Pickford has won the battle for the No 1 spot in the opening group match in Volgograd against Tunisia.

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Joe Hart’s absence allows the Everton man to excel without the shadow of the 75-capped keeper behind him. Hart was perhaps spared the humiliation of having played throughout the qualifying campaign only to lose his place when the tournament gets underway.

But Butland has been waiting for his moment to replace him as England’s No 1. Now, he could be destined for another period as a deputy at international level, at a crossroads in his career similar to where Pickford was this time last year.

While Harry Kane has been handed the armband, Southgate has spoken of the need to be a team of leaders, and Pickford’s command of his penalty area makes him an England captain in waiting.

October 2015 was the last time Raheem Sterling scored for England, 20 games ago. Dele Alli’s international record in front of goal is little better, meaning the Three Lions look set to be reliant on two players above all in Russia.

Other than Kane’s consistency as a striker capable of scoring for club and country, it is Pickford and the question of whether he can keep the opposition at bay that will determine how far Southgate’s men progress this summer.

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In his first two international caps, the former Sunderland keeper kept shutouts against Germany and Holland – impressing with the ball at his feet and his distribution on both occasions – and he appears a man capable of taking the increasing demands in his stride.

Ten clean sheets and penalty saves against Hajduk Split and West Ham this term are further indication he is tournament-ready should England progress to the knockout stages.

Pickford has worked with Southgate before at Under-21 level; the understanding and faith in one another cannot be overstated, and he is a man confident in his own capabilities.

Having his club goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson fulfilling the same role at England will further benefit his development. Pickford has been seen working on shot-stopping drills that alternate with improving his footwork at St Georges’ Park, like he had done at Finch Farm throughout the season.

Such is the player’s self-confidence, he revealed last week his willingness to take a penalty if England face a shoot-out at the tournament.

This is England’s most inexperienced squad at a tournament since 1962, but the man from Washington, Tyne and Wear, appears ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Marco Silva and Marcel Brands welcome in new era at Everton as Wayne Rooney heads for the exit

It was all fairly low-key until Marcel Brands was asked for an update on Wayne Rooney, but the readiness with which came the response suggests that the departing ‘legend’ is already old news.

Marco Silva was here at Finch Farm to talk about the present and the future, not of his acrimonious past, the club’s on-going legal dispute with Watford, and Rooney the player – it would appear – has also been consigned to history.

“There is the possibility that he will leave. He’s talking with Washington and it’s not a secret,” Brands told the assembled media on Monday.

“Of course, we will talk with him, and if this is the move that he wants to make and the next step in his career, then I hope he will return when he’s finished there because he is still a legend at this club.

“I did so at PSV and I also hope to do so here, which is to use the legends at the club.”

Duncan Ferguson and David Unsworth have both survived recent managerial changes, and Silva added on Rooney’s expected departure: “It was something before I arrived that was already done. Not done but has already started, this deal with Washington.

“It’s something we expect in the next few days. We’ll talk with Rooney because he’s a club legend, and we need to understand everything. Of course, as Marcel said, the door is open every time for him.

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“Of course, we’ll talk with him and we’ll see what’s happened up until this moment, and then it is Wayne’s decision.”

Rooney was an 18-year-old destined for big things when he left Everton for Manchester United on transfer deadline day in 2004, but his departure this time around has left many shrugging their shoulders.

Many fans were unsure of his return just a short 12 months ago when his fiercest critics towards the end of his time at Old Trafford described him then as washed up, finished, damaged goods.

But Everton are now left with a bloated squad, marked at being 38-men deep in Brands eyes. Before transfer targets are brought in and greater competition for places created, the new double act are clear in their message of wanting to assess which players must be moved on.

Rooney is Everton’s highest earner with the club having agreed last summer to pay £10m-a-year towards his wages when he took a 50 per cent pay-cut to re-join his boyhood club.

Getting the former England captain off the books entirely will free up additional funds for potential signings that are more in keeping with the long-term vision rather than players targeted by Koeman who were expected to make an instant impact.

While Silva and Brands spoke fondly of the door ‘always being open’ to Rooney, the conversations that will take place between the player and management team in the coming days are unlikely to change anything.

Silva was reluctant to pinpoint what the priority is as he embarks on his third job in English football, but the Portuguese admitted that there are ‘a lot of things’ that need to be addressed having done his homework alongside Brands.

While he will still want to be a part of the new era, Rooney’s exit is just the start of the reboot. Even he may acknowledge the need to seeks pastures new in order for the club as a whole to move forward with a vibrant, dynamic team capable of challenging for a top six spot.

Just as with his phasing out at United, Everton want to handle Rooney’s departure in a delicate manner that appears only reserved for players of a certain status, but the greater significance is that it allows for the new era to begin with a bold statement.

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There were very few to come from a rather inauspicious opening press conference from Silva, where the club’s new insightful director of football Marcel Brands left more of an impression.

Brands is a no-nonsense Dutchman aware of the clear-up operation that has been left behind by the old regime that had left many supporters apathetic under Sam Allardyce despite the eighth-place finish.

Steve Walsh experienced abysmal returns on his £239m recruitment drive and left along with Allardyce, and the former PSV Eindhoven director of football wasted little time in appointing his successor. On Monday, he gave his reasons for choosing Silva as the man to take Everton forward.

“The reasons we chose Marco as the new manager is because he is a young, ambitious and modern coach,” added Brands, who was in attendance at Anfield to watch Brazil face Croatia at the weekend.

“He is also a coach with international and Premier League experience. This was one of the most important things to choose when considering the new manager at Everton.”

“He is a coach that is aware of the academy and he wants to give young players chances [in the first team]. That’s important for the future of Everton.

“I know what our fans expect, and I know what they want to see every time in our team: a big commitment, a big attitude and always a big motivation and big ambitions in our team as well. It is our obligation, and it’s something you have to put every day into your work.”

Everton lacked creativity under Allardyce, but it is something that Koeman pinpointed as an area in need of improvement only last summer following the sale of Romelu Lukaku and long-term absence of Ross Barkley.

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Koeman sought to address the shortage of productivity by signing three players who would all vie for the same position behind a striker, and Silva was asked about how he would seek to address a squad that had the fewest number of shots on target of any Premier league side last season.

“It’s easy to see how my teams have played in the past, and now it’s the chance to prove it again here,” said Silva, who has signed a three-year deal.

“It’s a big challenge for us, we know what we want for our team but first we will look inside and analyse what we have. Afterwards, we will be assertive, and find the right targets for us.”

Silva was unmoved when asked about potential transfer targets. Richarlison, Jamaal Lascelles and William Carvalho have all be linked with moves to Goodison Park, but Brands reaffirmed the process of assessing the current squad before any concrete bid is made.

Brands explained that both he and Silva will sign off any incoming or outgoing transfer, believing that a collective decision can be reached on each potential target.

“He is going to make the starting XI, and that’s not my job. I’ve worked with a lot of good coaches, Louis van Gaal, Ronald Koeman and Philipp Cocu and I never had one player that we both didn’t agree on, and that will be the case with Marco.”

Brands admitted that when he began his new job on Friday, he was making several phone calls regarding new players, while agents were calling him about potential departures.

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The director of football admitted that a squad of over 30 players will need to be streamlined before the August 9 deadline.

Silva, meanwhile, did well not to fall into the trap of outlining a specific target in terms of league position next season after the wave of optimism which came with spending over £150m last summer following the sale of Lukaku.

While he has developed an unwanted reputation of not sticking around at any of his previous club for too long, the former Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos boss appreciates that this will be his biggest challenge yet.

He had barely been at Watford for five minutes when he appeared to have his head turned by Everton last autumn.

He was sacked two months after his former employers rejected a £12m compensation offer, but Silva will now need to convince some that he’s in it for the long haul after his new club showed such an interest in him.

“I’m not here for one, two, three years. I’m here for something more,” he added.

“It’s a big project and big challenge for us as a technical staff. Every day over the past two years, at Hull and Watford, I heard that Everton are a club that want to take the next step.

“This is something that will take some time, but you have to get results from the first moment as well.

“We are ready to prove every day what we want. First, we want to make the fans proud of our team. We need to build a strong connection between the team and them.”