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Southgate targets world number one ranking for England

KINGSTON: New England manager Gareth Southgate wants to make the under-achieving nation the world’s top football power, however long it takes, he said in a New Year message on Sunday.

England have slumped to 13th in FIFA’s rankings and have failed to make any impact at major tournaments for decades but Southgate is relishing the task ahead.

“We’re 13th in the world rankings and at the last two tournaments we haven’t got through a knockout game,” Southgate, who was named as full-time manager in November after a four-match interim period in charge, said.

“There are some obstacles we have to overcome but for me that’s a great opportunity and the potential is huge.

“I don’t have any fear in what lies ahead because I’m just seeing what’s possible. How do we go to being the number one team in the world?

“We’ve got to deliver, we’ve got to work hard, we’ve got to work intelligently. I’m looking at what’s achievable, I’m not thinking about anything else.”

Southgate has taken charge after a tumultuous period for England. After a poor 2014 World Cup when they went out at the group stage there came the dismal flop at Euro 2016 when they were knocked out by Iceland in the last 16, leading to the resignation of manager Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson’s replacement Sam Allardyce lasted only 67 days before stepping down after being caught up in a newspaper sting in which he was secretly recorded saying it was possible to “get around” Football Association rules on player transfers.

Under his guidance England are unbeaten, if not thoroughly convincing, in four games with wins against Malta and Scotland and draws with Slovenia and Spain.

He has impressed with his realism and vision for the future though and has not been afraid to speak his mind.

On taking over he spoke of the need for some “humility” in a squad full of millionaire players.

Continuing that theme Southgate, who won 57 England caps, said he was concerned about the spiralling wages of young players.

“The very best players have that drive and that’s why they get to the top,” he said.

“The concern is for any young player at an academy, who’s not quite made it in the first team, but thinks they have because you get big money for having achieved nothing.

“If you don’t have that inner drive, there’s a danger you’ll never actually get to be a top professional or be a first-team player. In years to come they could look back and have huge regrets.”

Southgate has already said Wayne Rooney will remain captain, even if the Manchester United forward is no longer a guaranteed starter in the first team. The former Middlesbrough boss wants more leadership throughout the squad though.

“At different moments you’ve got to have different people take that lead, whether that’s being brave enough to take the ball or talking to the others, getting them mentally back on course,” he said.

“A lot of that responsibility over the last few years has fallen on Wayne’s shoulders; that’s got to be shared, that’s got to be developed and that’s not just on the field but off the field in particular.”

England’s next game is at home to Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier on March 26.

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