FOX Sports Insider
DOHA, Qatar — England manager Gareth Southgate revealed that he and his players had received valuable advice on how to block out distractions from a well-known source: Prince William, the future King of England.
As always, the England squad have been under extreme pressure from their national media ahead of Friday’s clash with the United States, which will have a dramatic effect on the Group B result.
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Ahead of the tournament, the Southgate group were visited by Prince William, in one of his official roles as president of the English Football Association, at their base in St. George’s Park the day before they flew to Qatar.
“We’ve talked from time to time about the importance of ignoring those things outside,” Southgate said. “In fact, we had the future king come and talk to us about it, and he mentioned that I thought it was a point that no one could say better.
“On how to deal with social media, you have to ignore the noise. There’s always a frenzy of stories, you understand that staying calm in all of that is key.”
Managing expectations is a crucial part of Southgate’s job.
Football in England is not a sport, it is part national obsession, part religion. The scrutiny of the press is intense in a patriotic way that is hard to imagine in the United States.
Following England’s dominant 6-2 win over Iran on Monday, the Southgate side are heavy favorites to pick up another win when they take on the young, brave and enterprising Americans of Gregg Berhalter at the Al Bayt Stadium (2pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) . Berhalter’s side know it’s time to deliver as he picked up just one point from their encounter with Wales.
However, Southgate called for a reality check. In 2010, the teams met in the World Cup and the game ended 1-1 after England goalkeeper Robert Green made a terrible mistake.
Before that, in 1950, a packed US team stunned England with a 1-0 group stage victory in Brazil.
“Have we ever beaten the United States in a major tournament?” Southgate asked. “No, I don’t think so. So tomorrow we have to try to make history. We’re good at it. We’re good at speaking highly of ourselves as a nation, based on very little evidence, so what we have to do is act on the field. .
“We know the quality of the US side. The risk for us is that we think because we played well the other day we can move on to the next game. We have to find that reset button. We won’t be underestimating Team USA at all.”
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There are some feel-good plotlines in the USA vs. England game, and some of them concern the relationship between Southgate and Berhalter, who became friends several years ago. When Berhalter became US boss, Southgate was the first international manager he approached.
“No,” Southgate said deadpan, when asked if he and Berhalter were really close, before flashing a rare smile that belied the truth.
The slightly strange, and altogether quite endearing, reality about the most important recent game in US soccer history, back on track in their knowledge-sharing relationship.
Alan Smith, who coached both Southgate and Berhalter during their spells at Crystal Palace (1993-95 and 2000-01), was impressed, but not surprised, by Berhalter’s emergence.
“You could always see that Gregg had something about him,” Smith told me by phone from his London home. “We used to joke at Palace that he was our All-American boy, but he had a positive, hard-working attitude, and he didn’t let things get him down.
“It was a difficult time for Palace when he was there (Smith’s second term) and honestly it wasn’t a very positive environment to be in, but Gregg was professional throughout and was a student of the game.
“It’s no surprise that he and Gareth get along well. They are both driven and intelligent and the kind of people who appreciate the value of sharing information.”
While the status of soccer in the US continues to grow at a rapid rate, it is still a long way from the heat surrounding Southgate’s position. The role of the England football manager has been described as the second most important in the country, behind the prime minister.
“I think when he first took over it was very similar to the position that I first took over,” said Berhalter, who also injected some humor into the situation by saying he hadn’t seen “the ‘blue checkmark’ recently when sent a WhatsApp message to Southgate, stating that he was being ignored.”Trying to reshape team identity, refocus. The pressure in England is tremendous, and that is different. We all know that this is a results-oriented business, and we are responsible.
“Their record in major tournaments has been outstanding. They are off to a great start and are a formidable opponent.”
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @mrogersfox Y subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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