Gareth Southgate says he is worried about the condition his English players will be in for the European Championship next summer as he explains how the power of the Premier League could affect his chances of success.
The England manager will then see his side in March as they play their first three qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, which was drawn on Monday. England have been placed in a squad with Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino and the order of fixtures will be announced on Tuesday.
It is unusual to play in a World Cup qualifying before a European summer tournament, but it is an unusual season in terms of the revamped schedule. Southgate, who will name his Euro squad in the weeks following the World Cup opener, says he shares the concerns of top Premier League managers, including Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp. They were frustrated with the demands placed on players and the fact that the league has yet to allow the use of five substitutes in matches.
“Jürgen will be like me, looking at what March is like – when the teams are at the end of the Champions League, the teams are fighting for the league title,” Southgate said. “What we tried to affect was that we lobbied UEFA for five subs in the Nations League, which in my opinion was a good move. I know we are talking about the FA Cup in that direction. These are the bits that we can control as an FA.
“I think Jürgen would be frustrated because in Germany the DFB and the Bundesliga are working so closely together on these things. We don’t have that power over Premier League matches or substitutions. I think from a national team perspective, a compact season like this – it’s always a matter of what you’re going to get in the end.
Southgate has been asked if he wants to unite the Premier League clubs behind the national team cause. “It’s a great idea but I have to live in a pragmatic world and a world of reality,” he said. “I totally understand that we have the most intense competition at the top of our league and some very successful managers who have enormous motivation themselves.
“Our league is very different. This is one of the additional situations you have to deal with as an England manager. It is always important to have civilized relations with the clubs and respectful relations. But the reality is that our goals are always slightly different. It’s not that easy to put a multinational group of managers on the same page on England’s victory.
“International football is strong, as is Champions League and Premier League football. So there is a different political situation there that we do our best to try to navigate, but it makes our life more difficult. I think Arsene Wenger has said over the years that it is very difficult to have a strong national team and the strongest league. We are trying to do this. And will continue to try to do so.
If this looks like a season like no other, then the Premier League title race is shaping up to be unusually open, with a slew of clubs – including various English players – emerging as challengers. Southgate believes it may benefit him in his most immediate goal – pushing for glory in the European Championship final next summer.
“We always want our players to get involved in the big games. And when you look at the teams that have always won international tournaments, they have a lot of players who have won European trophies or league titles.
“The best way to judge people is against opponents who are at the highest level possible so you can see everything to see if they can cope, how they are handling under pressure. It’s a much easier guide on how they would be with England. I think it’s a fascinating championship season.
The glamorous matches of the World Cup qualifying campaign will pit England against Poland and Robert Lewandowski, who has 63 goals in 116 caps. Poland prevented England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup, defeating them at Chorow and then holding them to a draw at Wembley. The defeat at Chorow represents Poland’s only victory against England.
Hungary, meanwhile, last beat England in 1962. England’s combined record against Albania, Andorra and San Marino reads: P14 W14.
“Inevitably it will be about what we do,” Southgate said. “We are confident of who we are as a team and the progress we are making. First of all, with qualifying for the World Cup, you have to win – the goal is to get to Qatar. If you can play well and score goals and entertain, that’s fantastic. But first you have to win the matches.
“It is unusual to play in qualifying for the World Cup before a European championship and that means that you are involved in a few competitions. But I wish we were still involved in three. I’m still annoyed that we aren’t in the Nations League semi-finals.
Wales was drawn in a group with Belgium, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Estonia while Scotland has Denmark, Austria, Israel, Moldova and the Faroe Islands. Northern Ireland face Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania while the Republic of Ireland has Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.