Time spent talking with amputees from the Royal Marines had a big impact upon England’s would-be World Cup stars, according to manager Gareth Southgate.
A striking feature as the Three Lions prepare for their departure to Russia next week has been evidence of strong morale and a happy-go-lucky atmosphere among a young squad.
Southgate conceded he was “slightly flippant” when earlier on Wednesday he dismissed familiar concerns over squad boredom at a major tournament as “a big red herring”, but plenty of work has gone into engendering a positive environment at St George’s Park and beyond.
And the 47-year-old explained his decision to build on a relationship with military personnel who have suffered horrific injuries as a means of providing perspective, with World Cup pressures about to bite.
“We asked one of their guys to run a session with the players and part of that was three of his colleagues, who served with him and had suffered incredible injuries,” Southgate explained ahead of England’s final warm-up friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday.
“They spent some time with us as a group of staff and players, and then they spent some time with the players on their own, talking about different things which I’m not in the loop on.
“They have incredible stories. They give huge perspective to what we’re involved in.”
Southgate conceded he was wary of highlighting the sometimes tired links made between England’s sports teams and Britain’s military past but maintained there were valuable parallels to draw upon.
“I’m always keen not to overdo the military link, but there are some comparisons in representing your country and the pride in that, but also standing by the bloke next to you,” he said.
“When you go into situations like we’re in, the guy next to you is as important as anything else, making sure you work with them.
“There were some brilliant and inspirational stories shared and when those guys walk in it has a big impact on the group. It’s good for us to step out of our world at times.”
Giving players a sense of the wider world is something Southgate views as an important part of his role.
“As a coach you’re trying to influence people in the long-term, not just build a team for now,” he said.
“You hope these life experiences are with them forever and you create memories they take forever.
“Some of the great things for me about playing sport were the countries I visited, the teams I played in and the things I learned along the way.”
Reading books and taking part in a card school with Tony Adams, Teddy Sheringham and Stuart Pearce were some of the ways Southgate revealed he spent his downtime during England’s Euro 96 campaign – the quartet’s beloved afternoon snack of a scone and clotted cream being banned still drawing faux outrage.
“It was sacrilege, really,” Southgate exclaimed.
By contrast, the inimitable Paul Gascoigne flew between the badminton court, snooker hall and finishing trips.
England’s manager at that time, Terry Venables, remains a guiding influence for the current incumbent.
“He was genuinely a relaxed guy,” recalled Southgate. “He knew the moments to have fun and relax but when we worked he was spot on.
“He would by no means be viewed as a disciplinarian, but no one stepped out of line because there was a respect for him.”