England manager Gareth Southgate believes English humour can sometimes be misconstrued as a sense of entitlement as he defended the approach of his players at the World Cup.
The Three Lions take on Croatia in Rijeka on Friday night just 93 days after they suffered semi-final heartbreak against the same opponents.
After their 2-1 extra-time win in Moscow, midfielder Luka Modric spoke out against what he considered to be a level of disrespect shown towards Croatia.
He and manager Zlatko Dalic again aired those beliefs on the eve of the behind-closed-doors Nations League meeting on the Adriatic coast, as Modric claimed that it gave Croatia extra motivation to make sure they beat Southgate’s men.
England fans ensured the “It’s coming home” refrain went viral during the tournament as belief grew that World Cup success could be achieved against the odds.
But Southgate, part of the squad at Euro 96 when the hit from Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds which contained the phrase first made its mark, insists his players and staff show nothing but respect for their opponents.
“The song is humour isn’t it – it is English humour,” he said.
“Unless you’re a fan of Fawlty Towers and stuff like that maybe you don’t get the slant on it. It is interesting how we are viewed by the rest of the world sometimes when you travel.
“I’m always putting across the importance of representing our country in the right way and I think the rest of the world does sometimes view us in a certain way and feel that we have a sense of entitlement.
“But I can only speak for this group of players and this group of staff – it is not how we work and is not what we believe.
“We want to be competitive and we don’t want to be showing too much respect on the pitch but certainly in terms of what we believe of the opponents, particularly some of the players in this team, we couldn’t have more respect for them.”
Speaking in the bowels of the HNK Stadion Rijeka, which will be eerily quiet for the game as Croatia serve the last of a two-match stadium ban, Manchester City defender John Stones echoed the sentiments of his international manager.
“I saw his (Modric’s) comments after the game and it wasn’t the best thing to read,” he said.
“As players we always show whatever team we are playing the utmost respect, never come out and say anything to the media that disrespects another team or do anything to make teams think that.
“I think the thing we do is concentrate on ourselves and always be respectful of who we are playing and Gareth said it before, they have got some world-class players.
Croatia´s Luka Modric was not a fan of England´s “It´s Coming Home” chant (Tim Goode/PA)
“We said that at the tournament and I think that is the humbleness and humility we have as players. We know what situations we are in and respect what players we come up against.”
James Maddison, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho – the first player born this millennium to get a call-up – are with the senior side for the first time, while Ben Chilwell could make his first start after fellow left-backs Danny Rose and Luke Shaw withdrew.
James Tarkowski, Alex McCarthy and Danny Welbeck have also left with complaints of their own, compounding existing injury issues.
And while Southgate’s squad cannot match the hosts’ experience, the England manager scoffed at the suggestion his side would be experimental in Rijeka.
Ben Chilwell could make his full England debut at left-back (Nigel French/PA)
“No, we’re here to try and get a result,” he added.
“The team we play will be a team we believe in, whoever is ready to start.
“There’s nobody in the squad that’s here that we’re not thinking of putting into the team. It’s not experimentation, it’s players we believe in.
“Players that, OK, in a lot of cases are relatively inexperienced at the highest level, but players we’ve enjoyed working with have shown in training this week that they can handle this level. And we’ll pick a team that we think is the best one to win the game.”