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.

England Media Access

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.

Quarter Final England v Portugal: World Cup 2006

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.

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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.

England Media Access

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.

England Media Access

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.”

What should England’s squad numbers be at the World Cup?

On Monday, Gareth Southgate will announce his final 23-man squad heading to Russia for the World Cup. The final warm-up game takes place on Thursday against Costa Rica, with the remaining four stand-by options training with the squad for the duration of the week.

Belgium have given captain Vincent Kompany every chance to declare his fitness after being retained in their 23-man squad announced on Monday morning despite sustaining a groin injury in the 0-0 friendly draw with Portugal.

FIFA rules stipulate that teams can use up to 24 hours before their opening World Cup match to announce their final squad in exceptional circumstances, meaning should England suffer a similar misfortune to one of their players against the Costa Ricans, Southgate can in theory hold off his final call until June 17, the day before facing Tunisia in Volgograd.

Southgate decided not to replace the injured James Tarkowski from his stand-by list, given the number of centre-back options he has at his disposal in the squad, but Adam Lallana, Tom Heaton, Lewis Cook and Jake Livermore are all waiting in the wings should there be another setback to those already on the plane.

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But what should the squad numbers be? There’s a flexibility allowed by FIFA when it comes to numbers one to 11, while 12 to 23 are strictly based on position. For many fans in Russia and watching back home, these are minor details.

The players themselves, however, will take huge pride in the number they are given, and they could also be a nod to Southgate’s preferred starting XI.

Shirt number connoisseurs will appreciate the significance of today’s 4pm announcement with an upsurge in shirt sales to follow with fans able to act safe in the knowledge of which player shall be wearing what number in the tournament.

The big talking points

  • Do you give Walker No 2 or No 4?
  • Does Alli wear No 10?
  • Which of the likely starters will wear a number outside of 1-11?
  • Will England stick with giving No 19 to a star in the making?

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Here’s a suggestion…

  1. Jordan Pickford
  2. Kieran Trippier
  3. Danny Rose
  4. Kyle Walker
  5. John Stones
  6. Gary Cahill
  7. Raheem Sterling
  8. Jordan Henderson
  9. Harry Kane
  10. Dele Alli
  11. Jesse Lingard
  12. Trent Alexander-Arnold
  13. Jack Butland
  14. Phil Jones
  15. Eric Dier
  16. Harry Maguire
  17. Fabian Delph
  18. Ashley Young
  19. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
  20. Marcus Rashford
  21. Jamie Vardy
  22. Nick Pope
  23. Danny Welbeck

Selection explained

Pickford has won his battle to be England’s No 1, which will be all-but confirmed when he is handed the jersey this afternoon.

Elsewhere, Southgate may keep opponents guessing by handing Walker the No 2 shirt, conventionally worn by the right-back, even though he should stick with the Manchester City defender on the right side of a three-man defence.

England need pace at the back, and so Walker could prove one of the discoveries of the tournament in a more central role, enabling Trippier to take the No 2 jersey.

Danny Rose is the only conventional No 3 in the squad, but he is not guaranteed a start, so a case can be made to give the shirt to Ashley Young. But Young’s attacking instincts make him a far more comfortable fit in at 18 – a number he wears at Manchester United.

Another player who will fancy his chances of making the starting XI against the Tunisians but would be comfortable with a bigger squad number is Eric Dier.

The versatile midfielder wears 15 for Tottenham, and with Walker taking the No 4 kept traditionally for those playing at the base of midfield, Dier follows Young in wearing his club number.

England v Nigeria - International Friendly

England’s shortage of wide players means Fabian Delph at 17 is the only combination that makes for a slightly jarring fit, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s pick would be in keeping with selecting a talented young midfielder in Paul Gascoigne’s iconic No 19 jersey.

Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Lennon and Joe Cole have all previously worn 19, but there have been several bizarre allocations as a result of late call-ups in the past.

Gary Cahill was ruled out of Euro 2012 after the official squad numbers were announced, meaning his replacement Martin Kelly took the No 5 shirt.

In 2002, stand-by option Trevor Sinclair ended up being No 4 because of an injury to Danny Murphy, who himself was only a replacement for the crocked Steven Gerrard.

It means that come the final 24 hours before England’s opening game in Russia, there could yet be one of Cook or Livermore handed a 1-11 shirt.

Now that would be a quiz question many years from now if England went on to lift the World Cup this summer.

Manchester City en busca de la perfección, ¿pero cómo puede ser conquistado?

Todo parece indicar que Pep Guardiola se detendrá ante nada en busca de la perfección.

“Con 93 goles a favor, 25 en contra y 87 puntos en 33 jornadas, el brillo del recorrido no tiene precedentes,” dice el reportaje en El País este lunes.

El entrenador de Manchester City avisó que jugaría al golf ayer por la tarde tras vencer al Tottenham en Wembley (3:1) – haciéndose eco de la crónica mitológica de Sir Alex Ferguson en los greens de Mottram Hall, en Cheshire 25 anos atrás cuando el Oldham derrotó al Aston Villa para confirmar su primer título de Liga de los 13 ganado con el Manchester United.

Pero Guardiola sabe que su equipo debe mantener el ritmo para acabar la campaña batiendo récords de victorias, puntos y goles.

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City puede superar el récord de Chelsea por el numero de victorias en una temporada: ya tiene 28 triunfos, y solo necesita tres más en los últimos cinco partidos para alcanzar el clima delante de los 30 conseguido por Los Blues el año pasado.

Los campeones de Conte establecieron un record de 15 victorias fuera de casa en la temporada 2016/17, y City solo falta una para emparejar el hito.

El equipo de Guardiola todavía tiene partidos fuera del Etihad Stadium contra West Ham y un débil Southampton a St Mary’s en la ultima ronda.

Los Citizens ya tiene 87 puntos después de 33 partidos, así que hay 15 puntos disponible – cabe la posibilidad de que alcancen 102 puntos con cinco victorias más para establecer un record de puntos en la Premier.

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El Chelsea anotó 95 puntos en 2004/05 mientras que sus campeones de 2009/10 marcaron 103 goles. El City solo necesita 11 goles más para subir este record.

Lo mejor diferencia de goles fue establecido por el equipo de Carlo Ancelotti en 2010 también, con +71 pero el City ya tiene +68 antes de los últimos cinco partidos.

La sorprendente derrota de Manchester United contra West Brom supuso la primera liga de un entrenador español en Inglaterra, y el City mantuvo su ventaja de 16 puntos a la cumbre. Los campeones tienen en su punto de mira el record de 18 puntos de ventaja conseguido por sus vecinos en 2001.

“Somos los maestros de la complicación,” dijo José Mourinho tras la derrota. Pero Guardiola no ha perdido su identidad y sabe que hay mucho trabajo por hacer para coronarse campeón de la Premier League por cuarto vez el próximo ano.

“Claro que la figura de Guardiola divide la gente en España,” dijo periodista español Guillem Balague a Sky Sports.

“Hasta este punto, existen los que han sido vencido a él que han buscado una excusa para explicar los eventos mientras que hay otras que tenían éxito contra el entrenador, y ahora le felicitan sobre el éxito.

Manchester City v Leicester City - Premier League

“Sinceramente, la única cosa que la prensa y el pueblo español necesitan hacer es leer las estadísticas para admirar el catalán después de una temporada inolvidable.

“Incluso los periódicos de Madrid aquí en España son lleno de admiración por Guardiola, no solo por el hecho de que ganó el titulo sino también que lo ha hecho con estilo, adhiriéndose a sus principios, estableciendo nuevos records en el proceso.”

Guardiola no quiso llegar a un acuerdo entre su filosofía y una estrategia mas pragmática. Ha confirmado que puede ganar títulos en Inglaterra.

El entrenador tiene historia de quitar sus clubes después de poco tiempo – tres temporadas como visto en Bayern de Múnich – pero Balague piensa que el proyecto al City es solo al inicio.

“La razón por la cual no prolongó su estancia al Camp Nou en 2012 no fue relacionado a los resultados en el campo,” añado el periodista. “Sino una falta de apoyo mostrado por la junta directiva después del salido del expresidente, Joan Laporta.

“Cuando era en Alemania, tenía que defender y contestar sus métodos con frecuencia, incluso si el Bayern ganara. Tenía que explicar a la prensa y a sus jugadores el proceso de pensamiento y no había una sinergia con la junta directiva.”

Por otra parte, las opiniones no están dividas en el pueblo City. Sus amigos – Txiki Begiristain y Ferran Soriano – tienen las llaves mientras que las instalaciones están entre los mejores en el mundo.

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La plantilla ya esta creada en su imagen, con la promesa de mas fichajes este verano. Kevin De Bruyne, a pesar de ser comprado bajo la dirección de Manuel Pellegrini, esta considerado como emblemático de los métodos de Guardiola.

Eso es una plantilla joven lleno de potencial, y la falta de sostenibilidad mostrado por los últimos campeones ingleses es otro factor en la decisión esperada de firmar un nuevo contrato a largo plazo.

Guardiola le ha asaltado el mercado español en el pasado, con la llegado de Aymeric Laporte hace cuatro meses, pero va a ser mas difícil encontrar jugadores del nivel suficiente este verano para mejorar la plantilla.

El club se ha gastado más de 500 millones de euros desde 2016, pero Balague concluyo, “Si están buscando por un delantero, un lateral o centrocampista defensiva, va a ser complicado dado a la falta de opciones adecuadas en La Liga.”

Es inconcebible que la liga más extenuante de Europa va a ser tan fácil para ganar el año que viene.

El refuerzo visto en Liverpool bajo el entrenador Jurgen Klopp y el cambio probable en el liderazgo a Chelsea son solo dos rivales de la corona. El acto de crear una dinastía a City será lo más exigente desafío en la carrera de Pep.