Gareth Southgate prepared for his first game as permanent England manager by insisting foundations are now in place to narrow the gap on their opponents Germany – but warned the country’s “island” mentality must end.
England’s 3-2 win over the World Cup holders in Berlin last March left then manager Roy Hodgson proclaiming his “finest moment” in charge – only to resign in June after a humiliating last-16 exit to Iceland at Euro 2016.
Southgate, who replaced Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce after an unbeaten four-game run in interim charge, faces a stern test in Dortmund on Wednesday before a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday.
The 46-year-old says plans are now in place that will put England in a position to finally catch up with the German model of consistent success.
“Some of those things have already started, such as the reform of academies and the improved focus on coaching, which is a process they went through,” said Southgate.
“We’ve probably got some work to do in terms of the way they have a connection between the DFB (the German football association) and the Bundesliga that is immensely strong. There is an opportunity for the young German players to play in that league – there is a real buy-in on that, partly because of the ownership model of the clubs.
“To highlight the difference, they postponed the start of the Bundesliga because they got a team in the Olympics. We can’t even get a team in the Olympics. That is the collaboration they have.”
However, he added: “We are different. We have to get off the island and learn from elsewhere. We have some great strengths and if we couple those with some other traits we could be more powerful than anybody, but we have a lot of work to get to that point.”
Southgate also admitted the lack of recent major football success for England was the “missing piece” in the country’s sporting portfolio.
“I’m not sure we’ve always looked at ourselves in the mirror as closely as we should, that’s what we need as a football nation,” he added.
“We’ve had success in every other sport in our country.
“It’s probably the hardest one to succeed in – and if we do succeed it’s the one that will have the most impact on our country and on the people.”
Germany midfielder Lewis Holtby, now at SV Hamburg after playing for Tottenham and Fulham in the Premier League, agreed the Football Association has embarked on the mission to catch up and said England’s “time will come”.
“The youth system in Germany is the best in the world. The training, the managers, the facilities, all of that was very good when I was coming through and now it’s improved even more,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.
“In England, the FA is definitely improving. You can see how many young players there are in the national team, how many prospects coming through with a lot of talent. There is [Manchester United striker] Marcus Rashford, [Tottenham’s] Dele Alli is the future of England’s midfield and [Tottenham striker] Harry Kane has been top of the Premier League scoring charts.
“But Germany have always been ahead at being ready for tournaments, knowing when to be ready. All praise to the German FA for the very good work they have done over the years on that.”
He added: “I read a lot about people in England looking to the German youth system with big eyes, hoping to be like them – but the FA looks like it’s trying to find its own way.
“Their time will come. If they keep progressing this way they should have no problems.”
Southgate, a firm admirer of the German system, added: “We can learn from their mentality. When we’ve played German teams they just have that belief in the way they play.
“I’m watching Gary Cahill on the ball now and he has got that belief and confidence from the way he has been asked to play this year.
“You are working in a different system and opening your mind. Gary working with Antonio Conte at Chelsea reminds me of what [former England boss] Terry Venables gave me as a player, just stretching you into different challenges and doing things that improve you.
“We won’t get there overnight but I think we’ve got players who are able to do that.”
Cahill confident for German test
Chelsea defender Cahill, who will captain England against Germany in the absence of Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney and played in the game in Berlin, says his team will not be intimidated by the world champions.
“I am certainly respectful of the history of what they have done, but man for man I’m confident in the squad we’ve got and the players we have when I’m going out to face them,” said the 31-year-old.
And how can the gap to Germany’s model of consistent success finally be closed?
“That is probably the golden question isn’t it?” Cahill said. “To develop, young players have to play as much football as they can at club level and play in massive, important games – play cup finals or win leagues. That will happen.
“The more experiences they go through – good and bad – will bring them on as players and characters.
“One thing for me is having the ability and the other is having the experience. This happens over time.”