Southgate craves more depth

Gareth Southgate believes his main aim as England Under-21 manager is to help run a conveyor belt of talent ready to shine for the senior squad.

But the 57-times capped defender – whose side play Croatia next month in a play-off to qualify for next year’s European Championship – admits that he would like to see more serious competition for places in the senior side.

England v Croatia

UEFA U21 Championship
Play-Off first leg
Date TBC
Molineux, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Southgate supports the elevation of players such as Calum Chambers, John Stones and Raheem Sterling to Roy Hodgson’s squad, but hopes that over time the England manager will have more experienced players to call on.

“We still suffer from a lack of depth at older age groups,” Southgate told Sportsweek on BBC 5Live.

“Our 19- and 20-year-olds shouldn’t find it as easy to get into the senior squads as they are.

“I don’t disagree with them being called up because I think they’re our better players. But it needs to be harder in the future.”

Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers, 19, won his first England cap against Norway

For Southgate finding a balance between players getting their chance when they are ready and allowing players time to develop is crucial.

“What we need to do is to prepare our players to be successful,” he said.

“We’ve got a clear vision for the junior teams that combines the desire to be successful as a team with being successful as individuals, and develop the skills to play with the seniors and be a success at that level.”

“St. George’s Park is a massive part of that. In the past teams have trained in different parts of the country, played in different parts of the country. Now we can get three or four national teams there at once.

“The seniors were there with the U20s last week. The U21s were there with the U20s in the latter part of the week. So the players get to interact more.

“Three of the U20s trained with the seniors for a couple of days. There’s just that general interaction with the players, coaches, and everybody involved with the England setup.

He added: “But at the younger age groups we are a significant part of the players’ development, because at every age group teams the players are in the same age band so they have more in common.

“Their interests are the same. In the seniors you could have 10 years between the players.”

Southgate says his fears about the current lack of depth at senior level may one day be allayed, such is the current depth at junior levels.

“We are not short of players with talent and we are selective about who we bring in,” he said.

England Under-21s line-up to face Lithuania in Kaunas

England Under-21s enjoyed an impressive group stage

“And the squads have a massive spirit between them which is helped by the results we are getting, but we are also aware that there is a long way ahead and we have a lot to improve on.”

Maintaining contact with players when they are not with their national squad is also an important part of Southgate’s, and the other national coaches’, work.

“Some of our players have been sent videos of opposition players to look at before the game or other little tasks,” he said.

“We are very conscious, certainly with the junior national teams that we get the players for 40-50 days a year so building that relation when they are not with us and keeping contact with them and keeping England in their minds is an important piece of work.”

Southgate is looking forward to meeting up with his U21 squad for next month’s two-legged showdown against Croatia, with England hosting the first leg at Molineux.

Qualification so far has been a success, with the his side winning nine of their 10 group matches, drawing the other.

“We’ve got to the play-offs now. Most pleasing for me has been the style of football that we have implemented,” said Southgate.

“I just hope in those games that they can show the style under the more intense pressure that they will be under.”