Southgate keen to unleash his bold new England
Gareth Southgate has long believed England can play technically proficient, possession football on the biggest stage – now they must prove it in their World Cup opener against Tunisia on Monday.
Former Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and England centre-back Southgate was parachuted into the national team job following Sam Allardyce's ignominious sacking in 2016, despite having not held a senior coaching position since being sacked by Boro on the other side of relegation in 2009.
But the 47-year-old honed his craft and methodology under the employ of the Football Association and a stint in charge of England Under-21s positioned him to pick up the pieces after Allardyce fell foul of a newspaper sting.
Southgate has brought an England team to Russia more certain and defined in their style of play than any in recent memory, having settled upon a flexible 3-1-4-2 formation.
Nevertheless, Monday's assignment in Volgograd remains the acid test.
"The players have really embraced it. I think they like playing possession football," Southgate told a pre-match news conference.
"That's the way they play with their clubs, although there are tactical nuances between each coach.
"They have a hunger to press and win the ball back. They want to play brave football and be a bold and attacking team.
"That's the way I want us to play and that's the reason I joined the FA as Under-21 coach – I believed young English players could show something different.
"There was a perception across the world and a perception of English football. I thought it was possible to change that.
"I've seen without youth teams that's started to happen and now we're looking to convert that into the senior team."
The relatively low initial expectations and building enthusiasm around Southgate's youthful squad stands in stark contrast to the star names from earlier this century, who failed to match weighty demands from Three Lions supporters.
"I think the history can help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do better. You learn lessons from the past," Southgate said.
"This team shouldn't be burdened with it because they're a fresh group. Most of them have very few international caps so the future is all ahead of them.
"They've got to be thinking about what is possible. The players of the past and the opportunities of the past are gone.
"This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way. We have better technical players than we've had in the past coming through our academies.
"There is a real enthusiasm and they're looking forward to getting going."