Gareth Southgate has demanded ‘resilience’ from his England side on Sunday, as he warns against the harsh reality of European Championship failure.
The 50-year-old has become just the second man to guide the nation to a major tournament final, following in the footsteps of Sir Alf Ramsey who led England to success at the World Cup in 1966, that tournament also having been played on home soil.
The former Middlesbrough boss had previously taken the Three Lions to a tournament semi-final in Russia three years ago, although having already gone one better, the current crop of talent now has the chance to swoop a maiden European Championship triumph.
Buoyed by the backing of home support at Wembley, Southgate’s men will take on Italy in Sunday’s showpiece, a nation that England are yet to beat in four major tournament meetings.
With Roberto Mancini’s side standing in the way of glory, Southgate has warned that while the public mood is on a high right now, that won’t continue unless they can win it at the weekend, saying a runners up spot ‘won’t be enough’ for his hungry players.
“You get lovely messages that say whatever happens now, people are respecting how they (the players) have been and respecting that they have represented the country in the right way.
“I said to the players about all of these other bits, the legacy bits, they have achieved … but now they have a choice of what colour medal?
“And that, in the end, is what it’s all about.
“The lovely messages … that won’t be how it will be on Monday. I get the story, but it’s been about how can we push this team as far as we think we can? Because I know it won’t be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don’t win it now.”
The England boss went on to add that he’s looking for a ‘resilience’ from his young squad, ahead of what is a hugely pressurised and potentially ‘hostile’ encounter.
“There’s a really fine balance now because we know young people need support but if you’re trying to achieve extraordinary things, which our players are, then you’re into an environment that is a lot more hostile, and it can’t always be supportive,” said Southgate. “You’ve got to play in front of tens of thousands of people … you’re in the colosseum and it’s the thumbs up or the thumbs down.
“It can’t always be a cuddly, warm environment – you’ve got to have resilience.”
He was also keen to praise his opposition, particularly in the midfield, although he admitted his side have the tools to win, should they ‘get it spot on’.
“They’ve got two exceptional footballers, two of the best in the world in Jorginho and (Marco) Verratti,” said Southgate. “But we’re different and we don’t have a player like them anyway but we’ve got other players with strengths that can hurt them and we’ve got to make sure that we’re set up in a way that we maximise our strengths and to take the sting out of theirs.
“I think we’re in a position we deserve to be over the course of the tournament and I think we’ve got a 50-50 game against a really tough opponent. We’ve got to get it right. We can win it, but we’ve got to get it spot on to win it.”