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Jonathan Woodgate: England camps were so intimidating

| 15.11.2021

Woodgate on time with England and unity under Southgate

Jonathan Woodgate made eight appearances for England and in an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes, the former Leeds and Tottenham defender talks about his experiences with the national team.

The former Middlesbrough boss gives us the lowdown on England coach Gareth Southgate, plus his thoughts on Italy centre-back Giorgio Chiellini and that foul on Bukayo Saka in the Euro 2020 final.

In part two, Woodgate tells us about his time at Newcastle, Real Madrid and Spurs ahead of the launch of the 5-A-Side Bet on Sunday’s Tottenham v Leeds game, but he starts by looking back on the camps of old with the national team.

Those England camps were an intimidating place to be… there was definitely a divide amongst us

Gareth [Southgate] has created a proper team and it’s as if everyone just wants to be a part of the set-up, whether they’re playing or not. Even the likes of Conor Coady, who hasn’t played much, he absolutely loves going and representing his country.

Look back at past teams, and I’m not so sure you could say the same about some of those fringe players. Gareth’s brought that team together; and back in the day I wasn’t so sure everyone that was picked for international duty really wanted to be there. A lot of players did, but some of them didn’t want to go and not play.

You hear it a lot; people talk about the divide in England teams of old. I think back to my time joining up with the England squad in 1998 under Kevin Keegan and one occasion springs to mind, when we were staying in Burnham Beeches Hotel. I got a car down with David Batty because we were both at Leeds. I remember walking in and all the Man United players are sat at one table, and then there’s the Arsenal table, the Liverpool table. I was just thinking ‘oh my God, what’s all this about?’. I remember asking Batty at the time to make sure to knock on my door when he went down for dinner so we could go down together, because it was an intimidating place down there on your own.

David Batty, England, Jonathan Woodgate

You could see that divide then, between the likes of United and the other big teams. They all stuck together as a group, because they all came through the same youth set-up, so they didn’t really know any different. There was definitely a divide amongst us.

The difference with the team nowadays is that players are coming from all over the place. Look at the current squad; I don’t think there is more than four players from one club. You’ve got lads from Wolves, Aston Villa, Dortmund, Roma, Everton and West Ham. I think these days, the players have all bought into the England brand a lot more. A lot of the players have grown up together through youth teams, so there’s been that cohesion from early on in their careers.

Southgate has built something England haven’t had for years… I could always see him doing this

My relationship with Gareth Southgate is great. He was managing Middlesbrough at the time when I joined the club on loan from Real Madrid, it was his first job after his playing career, but I always knew he’d have a future in the game. I was surprised when he got sacked by Middlesbrough because – if I remember right – they were going quite well in the Championship.

I didn’t realise how difficult it must have been for Gareth in those early months as a manager until I retired and got into coaching myself. He went from playing in the UEFA Cup final against Seville, to being manager of a football club six weeks later. No A license, no B license, nothing. He did so well to keep Middlesbrough in the Premier League for those two seasons, and he deserved his chance with England.

Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. Gareth did a really good job with the under-21s, he got the chance after Sam Allardyce and he took it. England hadn’t looked as good as they do under him for years.

Gareth Southgate, England

He’s a really affable character, Gareth. He’s a likeable man, and you could always see him creating what he’s done with England. England squads of old show us that you can have all the best individuals and not the best team. Look at us in 2004 with the likes of Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. These are unbelievable players, world-class players. But world-class players don’t necessarily make a team. Gareth’s really built a team, and it’s so good to see. I really hope he wins something during his time in charge.

The next World Cup is going to be difficult. That competition is a different level altogether. I hope they can have a good run-in it but it’s going to be so tough. I went to the Euros semi-final earlier this year and thought we were outstanding. Then I watched the final at home with all of my family and I thought we were outclassed. Italy looked more savvy in all areas, they had more experience and I thought we just struggled to keep up with them in that game. There’s even more of those top teams at the World Cup, with the likes of Argentina and Brazil being right up there.

I’ve got to say I love that clip of Chiellini on Saka

As a fellow centre-back, I’ve got to say I love that clip of Giorgio Chiellini on Bukayo Saka. It was proper ‘thou shalt not pass’ stuff. At the time I was just thinking Saka had to run as fast as he could manage, because otherwise Chiellini was just going to take him out, and that’s exactly what he did.

That’s the thing; sometimes you need to take one for the team as a centre-back. He wasn’t on a yellow card so he could afford to do it. That’s just football; of course fans are going to be wound up by it, but you’d be over the moon if it was the other way around and an England defender had done it.

Any centre-half looking at that foul has had to do exactly the same thing at some stage in their career. I took my lad to the semi-final between Italy and Spain, just so we could watch Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. They’re absolutely world class.

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Warren Barner