Gareth Southgate’s tactics for Euros: pop star surprise, Ben Stokes advice, and unexpected bromance

Gareth Southgate’s tactics for Euros: pop star surprise, Ben Stokes advice, and unexpected bromance

Inspired by Wayne Rooney, entertained by a popstar, powered by Mexican food and uplifted by an unlikely friendship, England are primed ahead of their arrival here in Germany.

It’s been an emotional few days for Gareth Southgate’s side. The shock loss to Iceland on Friday and the ensuing backlash was hardly ideal ahead of their opener against Serbia on Sunday.

That followed the cull, as Southgate informed the unfortunate seven that they hadn’t made the squad and weren’t travelling to Germany this afternoon. Never an easy circumstance to navigate.

Some take bad news better than others. That was certainly the case during a 24-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday when Jack Grealish, Harry Maguire, James Maddison, Curtis Jones, Jarrad Branthwaite, James Trafford and Jarrell Quansah were told their services were no longer required.

Distress? Of course. Anger? No doubt. While Southgate insisted the players accepted the bad news respectfully, such moments rock the boat.

England are primed and prepared ahead of their arrival in Germany for Euro 2024 on Monday 

The Three Lions' shock loss to Iceland on Friday was hardly ideal preparation for the Euros

The Three Lions’ shock loss to Iceland on Friday was hardly ideal preparation for the Euros

Maguire, Grealish and — to an extent — Maddison are big characters. They make their presence felt, their respective departures are just as profound.

But onwards and upwards — at least that was Southgate’s message on Thursday night when he addressed his trimmed squad inside the luxurious lodge at Tottenham’s training HQ.

There was an acknowledgement of the uncomfortable nature of what had been a ruthless day; the axing of Grealish, in particular, was felt deeply.

But the overriding directive from Southgate was to draw a line under a turbulent day and divert their crosshairs to what’s on the horizon: glory.

Building team spirit, refreshing relationships and developing new ones is at the heart of Southgate’s methodology.

The omissions of Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Kalvin Phillips, Raheem Sterling, Maguire and — to a lesser extent — Grealish and Maddison creates unfamiliarity for Southgate in terms of camaraderie in his camp.

The axing of Jack Grealish, in particular, was felt deeply by the England squad last week

The axing of Jack Grealish, in particular, was felt deeply by the England squad last week

Sources say Southgate has been particularly impressed with Declan Rice’s (right) demeanour

Sources say Southgate has been particularly impressed with Declan Rice’s (right) demeanour

The dressing room — led by captain Harry Kane — policed itself. They drove standards, and pertinently, were central to helping nurture the sort of togetherness that has arguably been Southgate’s biggest success since taking over in 2016. But the faces are different this time. The leadership committee established by Southgate has disbanded; new leaders will emerge — or at least that is the hope.

Sources in the camp say Southgate has been particularly impressed with Declan Rice’s demeanour with the midfielder taking on increasing responsibility inside the camp. Southgate, more than ever, is gravitating towards the Arsenal midfielder.

His chirpy and outgoing demeanour makes him an approachable character for the fledgling members of the squad; they can relate to his style and swagger. Equally, the seniors recognise his burgeoning standing.

But it’s up to others to follow Rice’s lead. Southgate is banking on that. The England head coach and his staff have left no stone unturned in search of the perfect working conditions in which they believe the players can thrive.

Luke Shaw, Anthony Gordon and Maguire were the first to report for duty, arriving early to the team’s first camp at Rockliffe Park, in Darlington, as the injured trio all tried to convince Southgate of their fitness. We know Maguire’s efforts were in vain, but Shaw and Gordon reaped the benefits of their early show.

The first, and largest, wave of arrivals convened on May 30. Grealish, five days earlier than planned, was next through the door before Manchester City colleague John Stones, who played sporadically during the closing weeks of the season, also reported ahead of schedule. The remaining City and Manchester United contingent reported to England’s second temporary home at Spurs last Tuesday.

The constant flow of incomings into camp is said to have kept the mood fresh. New faces, new jokes — it goes a long way towards keeping a vibrant camp.

Reporting to Rockcliffe Park was particularly poignant for a host of players because the team had also been based there for part of their preparations ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 — England’s best tournament display since 1966.

Of course, Rockliffe holds a special place in Southgate’s heart from his time as Middlesbrough boss, with the Championship side’s training centre onsite.

But those players involved in that special summer of 2021 will always cherish Rockliffe. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a trip down memory lane to galvanise the juices. The onsite golf course and driving range were popular with players and staff, as was the table tennis table.

The basketball net that became such a lively hub of activity during Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022 is yet to make an appearance — but it is expected to return here at their base in Blankenhain.

Reporting to Rockcliffe Park was particularly poignant for a host of stars due to previous links

Reporting to Rockcliffe Park was particularly poignant for a host of stars due to previous links

Singer James Bay (centre) made a secret performance for the England camp at Rockliffe

Singer James Bay (centre) made a secret performance for the England camp at Rockliffe

Elsewhere, the introduction of themed menus, the Mexican and Indian nights in particular, have gone down a storm with players.

Then came the night they were treated to a Nando’s takeaway night as they chomped away on peri-peri chicken to the dulcet tones of singer James Bay, who made a secret performance at Rockliffe.

Those in charge of ensuring the players are entertained during camp are planning another intimate gig at their German HQ.

Players and staff, unaware of who will join Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams and Bay in performing for them, are already trying to guess who’ll be up on stage next.

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It’s all part of Southgate’s efforts to ensure players are constantly engaged. Tournament camps can become repetitive. Southgate’s support staff are trying to ensure there’s never a dull moment. One evening, the players congregated to watch Rooney 2004: The World At His Feet — a BBC documentary portraying the former striker’s remarkable impact at the European Championships of 20 years ago.

Back at Spurs last Tuesday, players and staff watched England women defeat France 2-1 in their Euro 2025 qualifier.

For a number of players, the highlight of their stay at Rockliffe was England cricket captain Ben Stokes’ stirring address.

Stokes spoke openly for around 90 minutes, reflecting on England’s 2019 World Cup triumph and particularly how they reacted to defeats against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia during the tournament.

The 33-year-old opened up on how he felt the tide of opinion was turning against his side as they suffered those losses, but stressed the importance of maintaining a view on the bigger picture even when public scrutiny lends itself to panic.

It is not lost on England’s most senior players that Stokes’s comments are now more meaningful than ever following the loss to Iceland and the criticisms that have arrived since.

‘Stick together,’ stressed Stokes. Since Iceland and the disapproval that has followed, the cricketer’s words of advice have resonated.

Of course, with that said, a large contingent of England’s squad head into their first major international tournament not tormented by the pain of failure on the biggest stage.

Yet the undamaged innocence of youth is said to have reinvigorated a squad that had grown, but ultimately failed, together.

Experience isn’t always key. Take Adam Wharton, whose addition has been described as a breath of fresh air. Senior players have taken a shine to him. Indeed, Kane is understood to have shared dinner with the Crystal Palace youngster one evening.

Kane’s developing bond with Wharton may unease Eagles fans given Bayern Munich’s long-standing interest in the 20-year-old. But what’s not to like: calm, mature, composed — and an excellent footballer to boot.

The England captain’s humanity isn’t restricted to Wharton, though. His work in maintaining a happy camp shouldn’t be underestimated. An extension of Southgate, the 30-year-old goes out of his way to welcome new faces, yet is fiercely loyal to those he has gone to battle with during his England career.

That compassion was present last week as he comforted the players that were culled.

Kane, of course, knows every nook and cranny of Tottenham’s Enfield training facility where England based themselves last week.

 England Test captain Ben Stokes’ stirring address was a highlight for a number of players

Harry Kane is understood to have shared dinner with youngster Adam Wharton one evening

Harry Kane is understood to have shared dinner with youngster Adam Wharton one evening

There is a familiarity to the complex England players find soothing. They enjoy their stays there, although you’d imagine Arsenal duo Bukayo Saka and Aaron Ramsdale would never admit it.

But again, it isn’t by chance that the squad feel relaxed at Tottenham. Support staff are constantly exploring ways of striking the perfect balance between work, rest and play.

The leisurely areas of England’s bases are deliberately untouched as the players mill around communal areas before and after treatment sessions that go well into the evenings.

Southgate’s meticulously organised pre-tournament camp has provided a platform for success. Ultimately, though, England’s Euro 2024 campaign will be graded on the pitch. No amount of Mexican food of Nandos will change that.

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