Champions League final may mess up Nations Cup plans, says Southgate

Gareth Southgate has admitted England’s attempt to win the Nations League in June will be a “mess” if one or more English clubs reach the Champions League final.

England play the Netherlands in the Nations League semi-final on 6 June in Guimarães, Portugal, five days after the Champions League final in Madrid. Southgate is concerned that if any of his players are involved at the Wanda Metropolitano they may not be available to him.

“It could be a mess,” England’s manager said. “Let’s say if two of our teams made it to the Champions League final then we wouldn’t see them, at best, until the Monday before we play on the Thursday.

“As an Aussie coach [Alastair Clarkson] I know says: ‘Good luck with that, mate!’ We’ve been in [this] semi-final, qualified six months ago and [are thinking] what a great opportunity to win something, and then you don’t actually get the team together. And with the emotion of that game [Champions League final], can those players even realistically play on the Thursday night for us?

“We’ll have to work out all of that as that goes on. But, fundamentally, our preparation will be here [in England], broken up with breaks at home to give them space that they would all need, bar the players that will play to the very end.”

The Premier League season finishes on 12 May, with the FA Cup final the following weekend and the Europa League final on 29 May.

Southgate said: “They would all need a period where they would need to psychologically switch off, and we’d have to look at Champions League final players when we get to it. It will be a little bit like the World Cup in that players will finish at different times.”

Southgate named Declan Rice in his squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic on Friday week at Wembley and in Montenegro the following Monday.

He defended Rice’s decision to choose England after playing for the Republic of Ireland in three friendlies. The 20-year-old West Ham midfielder has been criticised by former Ireland internationals including Kevin Kilbane and Gary Breen and by the former England captain Alan Shearer.

For Euro 2020 qualifiers

Goalkeepers Jack Butland (Stoke City), Tom Heaton (Burnley), Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), Michael Keane (Everton), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier(Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)

Midfielders Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Ross Barkley (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Forwards Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)

Southgate said: “It’s easy to be vocal when you haven’t walked in those shoes. I think he [Rice] spoke really eloquently about being somebody of dual heritage and what that means.

“For me it was easy: I could only play for England so there was no question in my mind, and for lots of people that commented that was the same. There were others who have commented despite the fact that they didn’t play for the country of their birth, so they’ve benefited from some of the rules that are there.”

That may have been a reference to Kilbane and Breen, who were born in England. Southgate said: “Fundamentally, in this actual instance, he’s a boy that was born in London and educated at an English academy. So I don’t think there’s too much that he needs to defend. But I understand the fact that there was a senior cap with Ireland, so that was always going to make it more complicated.

“But I think we’ve got to look at his age and normally a player of that age making this decision would be able to do it in a much lower-profile case, as was Michael Keane [Republic of Ireland to England], as was Matt Targett, who came from Scotland, as was the case with David Brooks, who went across to Wales.”

Southgate stated he would talk to Jordan Pickford privately after the Everton goalkeeper exchanged words with Newcastle United fans following Saturday’s 3-2 defeat.

“I think those sorts of coaching conversations are right for myself and Martyn Margetson [England goalkeeping coach] to have with Jordan individually. It is fairly clear when you see pictures of what’s going on, but I think the detail of how we would want to work and address that, it is important that we are speaking to him and having those coaching conversations in the right environment really,” he said.

Southgate said he expected to return to club management at some point, having been promoted from a playing role to take charge of Middlesbrough from June 2006 to October 2009, when he was sacked. He was appointed as head coach of England Under-21s in 2013 and took over the senior side in 2016.

“First and foremost, I love the job I’m in,” the 48-year-old said. “I’m proud to be England manager. We’ve got a second semi-final coming this summer and a Euros at home – the group stage is at home. So there is no way I’d be walking away from this.

“After, people might want me or might not want me, here or somewhere else. You can’t look too far ahead in football. You’re quite right, I’m contracted to 2022 or whenever that World Cup will finish.

“I’m sure at some point in my life I’ll want to go back to club football because people will say: ‘Oh well, he did OK as an international manager but he didn’t work as a club manager.’ How could you when you step out the dressing room? What do you know, really, two years into your coaching career?”