Southgate throws support behind Maguire under fire

Southgate throws support behind Maguire under fire

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Gareth Southgate has offered his full support to Harry Maguire as he prepares for Friday night’s Nations League clash here against Italy and the first opportunity to move on from June’s dreadful start to the competition – as the England manager admits he made mistakes.

Southgate’s side lost 1-0 in Hungary – only their second defeat in 23 games; the other had come on penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final. And then, after draws against Germany and Italy, they slumped to a 4-0 home reverse against Hungary as Southgate was booed by the crowd at Molineux.

Related: Gareth Southgate fights non-stop battle with English delusion | Barney Ronay

Southgate said he had lacked recklessness and made compromises that he regretted, suggesting the team’s previously excellent form had taken the edge off the environment.

But he was most interesting ahead of the second leg with Italy when he discussed Maguire who, after a poor season last season, remains out of touch and under relentless scrutiny. The Manchester United captain has now lost his place at club level.

Southgate made a point that the situation could not last forever, with the World Cup looming at the end of November. After Italy, England play Germany at Wembley on Monday and then their World Cup opener against Iran.

But Southgate drew a parallel from the world of rugby when he recalled how England head coach Eddie Jones had stood by his Saracens stars when they failed to perform at the required level following the club’s 2020 relegation.

“Eddie felt they were his best players and even though they were undercooked, they were still going to be better than players who weren’t up to par,” Southgate said. “Obviously it’s not an ideal situation [with Maguire]. We’re only a few weeks back from pre-season, so physically, if they’ve had a few 90 minutes, that’s fine. Another seven to eight weeks it starts to get more complicated.

“But he is an important player for us and it is important to support our best players. Whatever reputation I have, I put it on there. He is our most dominant aerial centre-back. He and John [Stones] are incredible with the ball – how much pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments because we don’t always have that midfielder who can get forward in the game. That means there’s a huge amount more pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well, and those two are as good as anyone in world football at doing that.

Southgate, who is expected to revert to a back three at the San Siro, went away from saying complacency had been a problem in June, that he had become comfortable. But the words didn’t seem entirely inappropriate.

– We played 22 games without a loss [apart from the penalty defeat against Italy] and for everybody, you think it’s just going to continue and maybe you’re not quite as ruthless about certain decisions,” Southgate said.

“I compromised on one or two things. When you have a tough run, it hardens your resolve. We are very clear about why these things happened and what needs to happen to correct these things.

“Every manager makes mistakes. Every manager reflects. I’m not saying I was comfortable. I said generally at times, when you’re in a big race, you don’t dig that deep into what might lie ahead and what might go wrong . The summer was very complicated, but we went through everything and there were things we should have done better. Quite often when you win, some of those things still happen, but you don’t consider it with the same intensity.”

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