AS Gareth Southgate reflected on the mayhem of managing at a World Cup, he allowed himself a wry smile.
“We have 32 teams here and, how many?,” he asked. “Probably 26 teams in crisis at the moment!”
Phil Foden was an unused substitute against the USARichard Pelham / The Sun
Foden came off the bench in the opening 6-2 win against IranGetty
England are hardly in crisis.
Even after a stinker of a goalless draw with the United States, Southgate’s men need only to avoid a four-goal defeat by Wales to progress to the last 16.
But since Friday’s dismal showing, Southgate is back in familiar territory — getting it in the neck.
And this time the focus of the nation’s frustration is his failure to bring on Phil Foden as a sub against the States.
The England boss knows the narrative.
Southgate’s concern, as the clamour for Foden grows before the battle of Britain with Wales, is that the levels of expectation on the Manchester City star, 22, will be unrealistic because of this furore.
They say you are never a better player than when you are out of the team — and Foden, who has rarely shone in 19 England appearances, is a prime example.
Southgate said: “We have to be careful as we are putting a lot of pressure on Phil.
“We need to make sure we are not building up Phil into a situation where, if he steps on the pitch, this is becoming really difficult for him.
“The level of expectation is beyond a young guy still establishing himself internationally, in a different environment from his club, where you’re comfortable with all the players you play with.
“At home, you’re going home every night, you’re calm with everything else. This is a unique environment.
“He is a young player and he’s doing brilliantly and we love him to bits. We also have to look after him.
“We’re happy with how he is training. He’s bright, he’s ready and he’s a good player. We’re blessed.
“We’ve got some exciting players.
“But sometimes the discussion around just plopping Phil in as a No 10 in every game isn’t realistic.
“In a game like USA the other night, you have to have the ball and there are defensive responsibilities that he doesn’t have at his club.
“From the wide areas it’s different, the defensive responsibility is different.
“As a No 10, you have to cover a lot more ground and be more aware of the spaces without the ball.
“If that pressure isn’t right, then they are through you and into your back line.
“That’s why we didn’t put him in as a No 10 the other night. There are games where there isn’t that same tactical challenge in midfield.
“There might be more freedom and that might be the slot he can express himself in.
PAGareth Southgate said Foden has more defensive responsibility for England than with Manchester City[/caption]
“But his club don’t do that, so there must be a reason. He’s a great option in two or three positions and he will have a big impact.
Southgate was even asked if the whole Foden debate was now just another example of his own negativity.
He said: “Well, we scored six in the first game — and we did not have different discussions about how we wanted to play ahead of the second game.
“We could have changed the team but decided to go with the team that attacked so well against Iran.
“We faced a USA team that defended differently and covered more ground than any team we have played in the last six years.
“Then you have a decision to make about who you bring on. We have Jack, who 18 months ago I was being murdered for not using!
“Marcus Rashford we feel has been in good form.
“Had we put Phil on and he hadn’t scored, we would have been talking about Jack or Marcus.
“I’m not going to change that. A lot of people have decided how it is. I’ve just got to keep making the decisions that give us the best chance of winning.”
Southgate said that, despite social media, his current Three Lions squad are less aware of debates about team selection than those he played for England with.
He said: “When I was playing, the players were more narky about it! It was more of a discussion in the camp than we make it now.
“At a World Cup, every country will have their own support entirely focused. This is one of the things you have to handle in a tournament.
“There are 19 other stories on a Premier League weekend and when you’re in a World Cup, there is only one.
“You have to be strong and calm enough to come through that. We’re fortunate that a lot of our players are in their second or third tournaments. They have lived it.
“But these situations have always been there. It’s rare that we’ve won every game.
“You’re never sitting comfortably and if we were that would be a worry because you don’t want comfort. You need an edge.”
Southgate admitted he had not considered bringing on Trent Alexander-Arnold against the States.
And the Lions chief suggested he is unlikely to rest Harry Kane, despite debate about the skipper’s minor ankle problem.
But, for now, it’s all about Foden.
Still, at least it shows everyone cares about England again.
Southgate said: “When I started six years ago everybody told me the national football didn’t matter.
“We’ve helped to create that feeling it does matter again — people are connected to it and want to watch us. So that is a positive.”
GettyEngland fans were desperate to see Foden introduced off the bench against USA[/caption]