Gareth Southgate praises Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford

Gareth Southgate couldn’t help it. The grin spread across the English manager’s face faster than the words came out of his mouth. This is exactly the effect Bukayo Saka has on you.

“People do what I just did and you start smiling,” Southgate said. “Because he brings you that, you know? You feel a warmth. You feel like a fabulous person who broke into the Arsenal team when they weren’t playing so well – and excelled. And now they’re pushing for the title – and it’s shining again.”

Saka will earn his 25th cap this week when England take on Italy in EURO qualifiers. And he will do so as part of one of the most form-retaining forward lines in world football.

It’s six goals and three assists for Saka since the World Cup. It’s 10 goals and an assist for Harry Kane. And just the 19 goals and six assists for Marcus Rashford since Qatar.

It is on this front three that Southgate is pinning his hopes of signing silver medals as England manager at the European Championships.

Gareth Southgate praised the form and personality of his in-form England attackers

Gareth Southgate praised the form and personality of his in-form England attackers

He praised the qualities and mentality of Bukayo Saka (L) to recover from Euro 2020 heartbreak

He praised the qualities and mentality of Bukayo Saka (L) to recover from Euro 2020 heartbreak

And yet Southgate had to put his arm around all three during his stint. Big mistakes in the biggest moments on the biggest stages. For Saka and Rashford, missed penalties in the penalty shoot-out in the European Championship final against opponents Italy on Tuesday. A spate of racist insults followed. Then, in December, Kane hit his second penalty over the bar on the night England lost to France at the World Cup.

All three have come back stronger, refusing to be grounded by the weight of failure or what could have been. Southgate knows better than anyone how many English icons have suffered from it over the years. “Bukayo has recovered from the obvious setback with us, he has the warmth of the fans with him who can see what he’s about, can see the real nature of his personality,” Southgate said.

“That has been key for us in the last few tournaments [racist] Spilled towards Bukayo, Marcus and Jadon (Sancho, who also missed penalties against Italy) in first stoppage time but then the tide turned and it was hugely important – because I think if the players hadn’t felt that warmth, they could they always do Worry about what could go wrong with England, as some of us have found in the past!

“You don’t want an environment where people are reluctant to give it their all. That love was felt, Bukayo was voted Player of the Year and was able to turn it around so quickly, and at this tournament Harry Kane felt the same way – and it’s important to us as a group, it’s part of the inhibitions we’ve had to overcome as a team , and we must continue to do our bit on the field. But if you’ve felt the nation’s support, you have a better chance of winning.

“To be a successful athlete, you have to be resilient. You will lose games, you will have periods of poor form, you will suffer setbacks.

“But the very best get through those stages and they show that strength of character and they have this insatiable desire to do better and to win. We have to ignite that fire, but at the end of the day, players deserve that recognition for coming back from things like this because no matter what conversations or support you have around them, ultimately they’re the ones delivering it. It’s her desire to get up every morning and go to the gym and put herself in the right space and devote her career to getting it right — that’s the part that makes the difference.

Saka returned from the Euros and didn’t look back. He scored 12 goals the following season. However, it took longer for Rashford. His call-up to the World Cup squad was his first since the European Championship. He had struggled under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United. Southgate downplayed the idea that Rashford’s pressures off the field, such as taking over government during school lunches, affected his form.

“You can see the happiness,” Southgate said. “His conclusion, you see him moving towards chances now and expecting him to score. For a while that wasn’t the case. You can see the trust.

“He benefits from the environment at the club. Things have settled. He has a coach who he clearly respects and who now has a clear identity with the team and their expectations and their work on and off the ball. The gameplay is clear. Last year there was also the mid-season manager change, so there were really a lot of worrying things.

“He’s in that flow that every player and athlete wants to be in. You can’t stay in it forever and you have to try to get back in when you’re gone. But he’s in this moment and needs to feel super secure.

It’s not surprising to see how Kane reacted to his missed penalty at the World Cup. Few footballers are as focused as Kane, with such confidence. This will be the first time he has kicked a ball in an England shirt since the World Cup, but he has since become Tottenham’s all-time leading goalscorer and could do the same for the Three Lions this week.

Southgate also insisted that

Southgate also insisted that “at the moment you can see the luck in Marcus Rashford’s game”.

He applauded Harry Kane for his reaction after missing a penalty at the World Cup against France

He applauded Harry Kane for his reaction after missing a penalty at the World Cup against France

“I had a good chat with him while we were away and messaged him before he returned to his club,” Southgate said. “Then I took a step back and looked at what it was like… and I didn’t really feel the need to pick up the phone! What I have observed is a player who is still super confident, still ready to perform and hungry to score goals. Sometimes you don’t have to get involved.”

Southgate confirmed he has not spoken to Sancho but said the United winger would be “very close” to selection if he continues to feature for his club.

He also recently revealed that he didn’t think some of his England players believed they could beat France. Some fans also feel that England are beating teams that are expected to beat them but fall short the first time against a great nation. If England are to win the Euros – and Southgate is adamant they can – that needs to change. They could start beating Italy for the first time since 1961 in Italy.

“We can talk about it as much as we want, but the only way we can really prove that is with our performances,” Southgate said. “I think Italy is a classic example. It’s another chance to break a story set against us. It’s the kind of quality of the opponent and the environment that if you go and win, you can really start building that belief even more. Gareth Southgate praises Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford

Maureen Mackey

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