England v Costa Rica exclusive: Elland Road trip is key for Gareth Southgate
GARETH SOUTHGATE believes that England's first senior international in Yorkshire in over 16 years will serve as a timely boost for many of the county's success-starved supporters.
England return to the Broad Acres for the first time since March, 2002 when they host Costa Rica at Elland Road tomorrow night in front of a sell-out crowd.
It represents the Three Lions’ final pre-World Cup warm-up match before the squad fly to Russia on June 12.
The game is England’s first home appointment away from Wembley since May, 2016 and it will be the third time that the nation have played a fixture at Leeds United.
Following a difficult season for several of the county’s leading sides – with only Huddersfield Town flying the White Rose flag in the Premier League – the game will be a weclome fillip for the wider area, according to England manager Southgate.
Mindful of the loyal support for England across Yorkshire over the years, Harrogate-based Southgate told The Yorkshire Post: “I have been here for 15 years, so we are very settled and I know the support in the area for England, but also football generally.
“Yorkshire has been a bit starved recently until Huddersfield got up. But I know the fanbase is there and I am really looking forward to playing here.
“I am aware of the support from Yorkshire clubs when we travel anyway. But also the guys who oversee all the travel have made a big point of how important it is to come here and we are really looking forward to it.
“As much as anything, it is about coming and connecting with the country. We are not just a London-based team. We could field a back four of Yorkshiremen, no problem with who we have got.
“We represent the whole country and sometimes because of being based at Wembley, that is not the way it feels for people and they have to pay a lot of money to travel there and get back in the early hours of the morning and so it is really nice to bring the game north and Yorkshire.
“The potential of some of the clubs is phenomenal really, including this one (Leeds United). You hope that the loyalty of the supporters is going to be rewarded. I am sure it can be; it is just having the stability.
“With quite a few of those clubs, there has been a lot of change of ownership and they just need some stability to build.”
With England to stage several home games away from Wembley in their yearly itinerary when the expected £600m purchase of the national stadium is completed by billionaire American Shahid Khan, tomorrow’s match in Leeds will act as useful preparation for the future.
England will also host Switzerland on September 11 at a venue yet to be decided, with playing at different stadiums across the land being something that is common practice for the likes of Spain, Germany and Italy.
In the here and now, Southgate believes that England being away from their Wembley ‘comfort zone’ in their final warm-up before heading to Russia will also prove beneficial.
“We’ve got to get used to playing at different venues,” the onetime Middlesbrough manager added. “When you are playing in tournaments, you are on the road, so it is good to play away from Wembley in that respect.
“It is an important game. We have only taken two (warm-up games) as we had some players in the FA Cup final and a couple in the Champions League final. We did not want to have too many matches, but it means that the two games that we have got are very important.”
Much has been made of the youthful squad who will represent the Three Lions in Russia, which is the youngest England party to travel to a World Cup since Chile in 1962.
Among that number is Liverpool teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold, with the full-back, 19, likely to be handed a full debut tomorrow.
Despite the omission of several experienced players including Joe Hart, Adam Lallana, Jack Wilshere and Chris Smalling, Southgate believes that his fresh-faced squad possesses a strong mentality, with a number of players including Yorkshiremen Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire and the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli showing their character early on in their career in the unforgiving Football League.
Southgate said: “I don’t think anybody gets to be a top player without having resilience and that is developed in different moments of your career. Very often, international players have not started off at a big club.
“With the (England) teams I played in, the (Manchester) United group were exceptional, but outside of that it was only Tony Adams who started at Arsenal and was there all the way through.
“When you went through it, Stuart Pearce came through the non-league and Teddy Sheringham from Millwall and I started at (Crystal) Palace. Dave Seaman was at Peterborough and Birmingham and David Platt was released and came through Crewe.
“It has not been an unusual path and I think probably the key is starting to play first-team football early and getting used to the consequences of losing and playing in front of a crowd. That raises expectations. Whether it be your own club or going out on loan.”
Part two of our Southgate exclusive is in our four-page World Cup guide on Monday