Southgate’s secret culture and gambles behind England’s route to Euro 2020 final

England have already achieved something few squads have managed in the past.

That is keeping a clean bill of health and getting everyone fit and available to be on the pitch.

England’s previous Euros and World Cup campaigns have been littered with injury, misfortune and withdrawals down the years which has left players half fit going into tournaments and paying a heavy price.

Whether it was Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal and a race to be fit or everyone praying David Beckham would make it in 2002. Or Rio Ferdinand going home injured on the eve of the 2010 World Cup.

It has felt that every campaign had a major injury or fitness issue which has clouded the preparations and whole tournament.

England’s coach Gareth Southgate gestures during the UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final football match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium in London on July 7, 2021. (Photo by CARL RECINE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CARL RECINE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

But it is a tribute to the “culture” that Gareth Southgate has created at St George’s Park that, despite some big players nursing injuries from the end of a gruelling season, they have navigated their way through it.

They gambled on Harry Maguire’s fitness despite the Manchester United defender having an ankle ligament injury which kept him out of the final weeks of the season.

Jordan Henderson did not play a minute for Liverpool in the final three months of the season, TV pundit Roy Keane ridiculed his selection and yet actually he has been a huge positive influence on the group.

Marcus Rashford has been a bit part player as he has also been carrying injuries but is another big personality within the squad.

Yes, Trent Alexander-Arnold missed the tournament through injury but to get through five weeks without further issues is nothing short of remarkable when you consider other top nations have lost big players to muscle and fatigue injuries. Just look at Italy’s Leonardo Spinazzola.

They have also made St George’s Park a fun place to be with warm downs in the pool while floating on giant unicorns, Ed Sheeran playing an acoustic set and even Mr Whippy vans delivering ice cream cones after training.

But it has also been about hard work and very detailed and strict programmes. In the early days of the camp, players were actually complaining about tough sessions, hard work outs leaving them drained on the back of a tough season.

However, Southgate and his coaching staff including Steve Holland, Graeme Jones and Chris Powell have carefully tapered down the training sessions during the tournament so they feel in great shape now. Well drilled, fit and in peak condition for the final on Sunday.

They have also worked hard on penalties, kept a log of post-training shoot-outs, done plenty of two versus three work outs – defenders trying to keep out attackers – which is a key reason behind their defensive diligence and set piece routines.

Players have their own individual programmes so Jack Grealish’s fitness has been managed as he struggled with a shin issue at the end of the season. Rashford, too, has been keeping tabs on his running via data and GPS technology.

But, interestingly, Southgate also believes that fatigue is also in the head and you can quickly convince yourself of being tired if there is negativity around the camp.

Southgate said: “I think the biggest thing is psychological fatigue and the physical, the players are fit and we’re very professional, and I was going to say careful, but we’re very good, Steve and our sports scientist team, in terms of planning the training.

“We don’t overload the players, we’ve been conscious of that going back years. When they’re with us, we can’t improve them physically so we don’t overtrain and we keep that freshness and we have minimal injuries in our camps, muscular injuries, is very rare.

“When we do get one there’s an enormous drama, of course, but if you look across the years we haven’t lost many players in that manner and at this moment in time we still have 26 players available through the end of the season has been as challenging for everybody as any other.

“But I think it’s the psychological freshness that’s the key. We felt that the environment that we wanted to create needed to be one that refreshed the players, that allowed them to enjoy their downtime, that gave them some freedom even in these moments where freedom is difficult.

“But by being at St George’s we’ve actually been able to give them that freedom and that’s the key. You can talk about fatigue, you can talk about the season but to get the physical training right and to get the psychological freshness right is key to creating the energy that is needed.

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“But this group has been so immense because we’ve got some players who are big stars at their clubs, who are big names in English football, and they’ve all mucked in. They’ve all accepted the role, they’ve all bought into what we’re doing is a group.

“They’ve got tremendous respect for each other. I have to say the likes of Conor Coady, Jordan Henderson, Tyrone Mings who are the more senior ones that have been in that group.

“Marcus Rashford, the way they’ve been has set a standard for the whole group that accepting the role, understanding that to support is crucial, to provide the challenge in training is critical.

“I know that’s what’s happened with successful teams in the past and those guys have done that this time.

“They’ve set the benchmark and it’s created a culture and a feeling amongst the group that there is that genuine togetherness and excitement for each other and they are all in a final now. “

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