Gareth Southgate says England’s stars cannot be considered “big players” until they prove themselves on the world stage.
Although England sealed World Cup qualification with a 1-0 home win against Slovenia on Thursday thanks to a late Harry Kane strike, they have often struggled for cohesion during the campaign.
Bored home fans floated paper aeroplanes on to the Wembley turf ahead of Kane’s late impact, although England’s effectiveness in an unbeaten qualifying run is not in doubt.
But while England’s squad features Champions League winners such as Gary Cahill and players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who have moved for big transfer fees, Southgate believes his men have not yet done enough to be considered among Europe’s elite.
“Well, are they big players until they win?” Southgate retorted to reporters on Saturday. “We’re talking about ‘big players’ because of transfer fees or because they are playing in the Champions League.
“But when we are in semi-finals, finals and winning trophies then I think we’re big players. Until that point, for me, we have it all to prove. I am the same as a coach, so I don’t disassociate myself from that. We can’t consider ourselves to be big players.
“Big players are [Gerard] Pique, [Sergio] Ramos, [Sergio] Busquets, [Toni] Kroos, [Sami] Khedira, [Manuel] Neuer – I could go on. That’s what big players are.
“We create a bubble in our country around the [Premier] League because of the money, because of the profile of it. [But] we have it to prove. No problem. These guys are hungry to prove it.”
Dele Alli is among the leaders of the current crop of talent in the England squad and the Tottenham midfielder is set to return from suspension for Sunday’s trip to Lithuania that concludes the Three Lions’ campaign.
But Southgate stressed that Alli – who was banned for the Slovenia win after making an offensive gesture during a qualifier against Slovakia and was booked for diving in his last Spurs appearance – still needs to improve areas of his game.
“Dele is an interesting player,” Southgate said. “If you analyse his game closely he’s a scorer of goals and he’s not necessarily the link player Adam [Lallana] is.
“So players and their particular skill-sets, and areas where they are effective, are not always what’s commonly perceived. Dele’s biggest strengths are arriving in the box, timing his runs, finishing and scoring goals.
“If he can add consistency into his touch and creativity of pass into that, he’ll be a better player than he already is.
“The whole team needs to be more streetwise. By streetwise I mean managing periods of pressure in games, and how we deal with that. Understanding the right thing to do at the right time. That applies to us, definitely.
“It’s one of the areas we have to be better at if we’re ahead in games, or if one team is down to 10. You manage moments in games, and that’s the key. A key area we’ll focus on more going towards the summer.”