Southgate will not shy away from tough decisions as he looks to improve England

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Gareth Southgate will continue to make ruthless decisions to ensure England develop and evolve in the wake of their run to the World Cup semi-finals.

The Three Lions returned home as heroes on Sunday after ripping up the script and producing a memorable run to the final four for the first time on the world stage since 1990.

The preference for promise over experience worked well in Russia and Southgate will not start shying away from putting his faith in youth as the England boss attempts to use the summer as a springboard heading into Euro 2020 and beyond.

Gareth Southgate's team reconnected with the England fans in Russia (Tim Goode/PA)
Gareth Southgate’s team reconnected with the England fans in Russia (Tim Goode/PA)

“I think we’ve always found a balance of making the decisions that need to be made and looking at how we grow a group of players and a togetherness and spirit that will stand us in good stead,” Southgate said.

“We try and find that balance of an environment where people can improve and learn and get better and recognise at the time you have to make selection decisions as well.”

Chelsea captain Gary Cahill could well be the next player to fall foul of Southgate’s focus on developing a team for the future.

Comfortably the most experienced member of England’s World Cup squad, the manager has had open and honest dialogue with the 32-year-old about his role.

“Gary has a desire to still be involved,” Southgate said of the 61-cap defender. “He’s a player we really respect.

“His contribution to what we’ve done, in terms of how he’s been with the group, his training and everything else, has been excellent.

England – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Media Activity – 4th July
Gary Cahill (left) impressed Gareth Southgate with his attitude in Russia (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“He also knows that generally speaking we are looking at some other players.

“He doesn’t want to finish and I don’t want him to finish either.

“So we’ve had a really productive and mature conversation about what happens next. And hopefully he has another brilliant season with his club.”

England v Belgium – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group G – Kaliningrad Stadium
Phil Jones (left) is firmly in Gareth Southgate’s plans for the future (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Three Lions squad for the UEFA Nations League opener against Spain in eight weeks’ time promises to be interesting, and a match everyone will face re-energised after a long summer.

“I think if I look back, probably a year, I had a long discussion with our board about what we wanted to do with the team, how we wanted to evolve – and they were brilliant,” Southgate said.

“They didn’t put me under pressure to try to achieve a certain performance, or a certain outcome, but they were keen that we showed signs of progress and improvement.

“And were happy to back my thoughts about putting some younger players in and support that decision.

“So if I think back to that conversation, the last seven weeks have been exactly what we hoped they would be in terms of the improvement in the team, the experiences for the younger group of players.

“They will be buoyed by the positive experiences, of which there have been many.

“But equally we know we are under no illusions about where we sit in the world standings.

“So the defeats have, I think, been hugely important for our development as well.

“We finished in the top four, deservedly in this tournament, helped by the draw.

“But we’re not a top-four team yet. And we know that.

“So it’s nice that we’ve got the enthusiasm and the encouragement from the tournament.

“The belief from some of the experiences we’ve been through.

“And that allows us now to go back and to identify exactly what we need to do. And for the players to reflect on that as well.”

Southgate will continue to balance short-term success with a focus on long-term glory and believes his players will only improve, especially as increasing numbers are involved in big matches.

This summer’s tournament will also prove invaluable to the players, just as it will for the manager.

Southgate concedes Raheem Sterling was among a couple of exhausted players that he perhaps should not have fielded in the 2-0 third-place play-off defeat to Belgium, but any major regrets will take a longer time to compute.

“I need time to go away and think about that,” Southgate said.

“There’s always a balance of decisions you make that you’re really pleased with and things you think, ‘OK, how might we do that differently?’”

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