By Simon Burnton/The Guardian
1998: Les Ferdinand
Knocked out by Argentina on
penalties in last 16
I had no idea whether I was going to get into the squad. I’d had a lot of injuries that season, and in April I was selected for an England B game and Glenn Hoddle said: “I want to take you but you’ve not played enough games.” I didn’t think I was going. Then he announced a 30-man squad with me in it, and we went to a training camp at La Manga. Every session you’re trying to decipher what it means for your place in the squad.
Eventually, those of us who made the 22 were told at the hotel, all at the same time. It quickly came out that Paul Gascoigne had been pretty unhappy at missing out, and that’s what people remember. We’d been together for a while and all of a sudden you’re losing some of your colleagues, and as pleased as you are that you’re not one of them, watching those guys head out the door, seeing their sadness, that wasn’t good for the group.
I think what Gareth has done is much better. There’s people on standby but everybody knows where they stand. And I like his squad: I think England have always picked players for tournaments because of their reputation. This is the first time I’ve seen a squad genuinely picked on merit.
In France we were in a hotel in the countryside. The facilities were fantastic and we had some things to do – a pool table, table tennis – but there’s only so much of that you can play. There are going to be periods of boredom. When you’ve got nothing to do you pick up a newspaper, and that’s when the media scrutiny hits you, and if there’s negative press the squad picks up on it pretty quickly. Gareth has been to tournaments, he’ll know that and he’ll put something in place to stop the boredom kicking in. I would have liked to go out on some trips, to get the players in a group together, away from the hotel. But then if results are bad everyone would have complained that the players were off doing that rather than concentrating on football.
2002: Rio Ferdinand
Knocked out 2-1 by Brazil in quarters
We had a strong team in Japan, built on a strong defence. The key was that we had played together for a long time. I knew Sol Campbell’s game, Sol knew Ashley Cole’s game, I knew Gary Neville’s game, or Danny Mills’s game [Neville missed the tournament through injury]. When you’ve got those relationships, it allows you to perform with confidence, and I think that’s what this England team is missing.
There were a lot of injuries in the buildup – David Beckham was coming back from a metatarsal, Kieron Dyer and Steven Gerrard were both affected by injury and replacements were flying in and out. I think if a player’s carrying an injury going into a tournament, they’re never going to get fit enough to come into the team and make a difference. Especially if it’s your star man, the attention it creates, especially if that player doesn’t play to his best, it has a negative impact on the squad. You want to get rid of all that razzmatazz – a player needs to have played at least a couple of games at the end of the season, and the manager needs to be strong enough to make that call.
He doesn’t have to only pick players who are in form, though. You need people with international experience, who the manager trusts, but if you’ve got a few players on the fringes of the squad who were in form at the end of the season, they can make a difference.
I have good memories of that World Cup. I think it was the most well-organised tournament I went to. There were some big distances to travel but the facilities were fantastic, the pitches were first class and I think every detail was taken care of perfectly. My family came out, and nobody had a murmur of complaint. Plus we beat Argentina. We were a long way from home but at a World Cup that doesn’t make a difference. You’re in your bubble. You could be on the moon and it wouldn’t make a difference.
2006: Jermaine Jenas
Knocked out by Portugal on penalties in quarter-finals
We were staying in Baden-Baden and a lot of us had friends and relatives nearby. Seeing my mum and my then girlfriend, having my mates there – and to this day they say it was the best holiday they’ve ever had – was a nice escape. It felt good at the time. But the way the British media reported the fact that our families were out there and enjoying themselves, the way they blew everything out of proportion, I thought was out of order. My mum was having conversations with journalists, having meals with them – they were staying at the same hotel – but then these reporters were stabbing people in the back and sneaking secret cameras around. As players we didn’t like that and maybe it distracted us.
Since then the FA have gone down a different route. As a footballer you should be able to focus for a few weeks. I think if players want to see their wives or girlfriends and kids then that’s fine, but if it’s your mates, and your mates’ mates, that crosses the line a little bit. I think the ideal scenario would be for families to be nearby but in a more controlled environment, with the press kept away.
Other than that I was pretty happy with everything off the pitch. I felt as a squad we did have togetherness and did mix together. On the pitch, though, there was a divide. You had your starting XI, everyone knew who was in it, and everybody else was made to feel very distant. I was on the bench with the likes of Michael Carrick and Wayne Bridge looking at Sven-Göran Eriksson and thinking: “This guy, no matter how bad we play, he’s never going to change his team.”
If any player finds himself in that situation my advice would be: stay focused, because if you get past the quarter-finals, which we nearly did, that’s when injuries and suspensions kick in and you might be needed. But hopefully Gareth Southgate will make sure the divide between the first XI and everybody else never develops.
2010: Frank Lampard
Knocked out 4-1 by Germany
in last 16
We made two trips to Austria before the tournament, the first a couple of days after the FA Cup final – those of us who’d played at Wembley got two extra days off. So there wasn’t much of a break, and we were together a long time. Then we were stationed out on our own in South Africa, without any entertainment or interaction with the community, nothing to take your mind off football. Some kind of distraction is needed. Retrospectively, that is something I’d have changed, and I don’t think those mistakes will be made again. To get to the end of the season and go straight into a tournament was probably not the right thing, and Gareth Southgate has given the players some rest. You only need about five days. It’s a rest for the mind as much as anything, some time with your family before you go away.
I’ve never been one to have families at tournaments. I find it a distraction. It’s a month out of your life, not an eternity. Families can fly in and out and I don’t mind that so much, but the idea of them being permanently around I find quite difficult. After 2006 we went from one extreme to the other, and the middle ground is where you want to be.
Once the football starts, all eyes are on you and the scrutiny is intense. We started with a draw against the USA, and if your tournament begins poorly it can be hard to press the reset button and get the confidence flowing again. In 2010 that’s something we certainly didn’t manage. That will be one of Southgate’s big battles, trying to take all the nonsense away from the players, trying not to let any over-the-top negativity infiltrate the team. Once it seeps in unfortunately it does affect performances. At Euro 2004 we got a bit of momentum and had the feeling we could maybe win it. None of the other tournaments I was involved in was like that.
2014: Rickie Lambert
Knocked out in group stage
I remember when I found out I was going. The announcement was scheduled for about 12pm, and it was nearly then and I hadn’t heard anything. Then I got a text from the FA telling me what time to be at the airport, so I sent one back saying: “Am I in the squad then?” And that’s how I found out, about 10 minutes before it went public.
I was made up to be going. I felt that every time Roy Hodgson had called on me I’d produced, and I thought I was going to play a part in the World Cup. In the end I sat on the bench for all but the last three minutes of the Uruguay game. I wasn’t expecting to be in the starting XI but what baffled me was when we needed a goal I was kept on the bench. I was flying at that time and just desperate to get on.
We pretty much knew the team and even if the lads had a bad game I don’t think he would have changed it much. That’s been an issue over the years – the team’s been based on names and not form. If I had one bit of advice for Gareth Southgate it would be: change the team, play the right team for every game.
When we got to Rio we were staying in a really nice hotel but we just couldn’t leave it. We were in an amazing city but couldn’t see it. A few lads tried to go to the beach and apparently it was just chaos. That was hard at times. Then we had to travel an hour, sometimes more, to training. It wasn’t so far, it was just traffic. The police basically had to shut down Rio to get us there. Maybe a football complex would have been better, somewhere with space to go outside in your free time and training facilities.
The way the FA look after the players is amazing. You get treated like kings. But the pressure from the media was something I was not ready for. It shocked me how intense that was and the pressure does creep in. I think the FA bow to the press far too much and if I were Southgate I’d be trying to change that. If damaging stories come out, try to keep the lads away from it and take the pressure off. I’m not saying they should have a drink – those days are gone – but get the players socialising, make sure they have a laugh and let friendships grow.
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