Gareth Southgate laughed off the suggestion that England’s players might be distracted by his contract situation ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Few could have predicted just how the team’s fortunes would improve under the 57-cap former defender, who was initially brought in as interim boss following Sam Allardyce’s shock exit in September 2016.
Southgate led England on an unforgettable run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and they finished third in the inaugural Nations League, before reaching this summer’s Euro 2020 final against Italy.
Such success saw Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham say during the tournament that he wanted the 51-year-old to sign a new deal beyond next year’s World Cup.
Southgate has been coy about his intentions since then as he focuses on reaching Qatar rather than what happens after it – but he does not see that distracting his players.
The England boss said, with a laugh: “I wouldn’t think they could care less, frankly! They’re not bothered who the manager is at club or country.
“One comes, one goes. The next one, they get on with it. So, no, it’s not a distraction in any way, shape or form.
“I’ve got 14 months. If you can get through 14 weeks as a manager you have done well, so it really isn’t an issue.
“I’m enjoying working with the team and I would imagine we won’t even discuss that until after the autumn now.”
England have World Cup qualification double-headers in October and November, but they would appear all but assured of progress to Qatar should they beat nearest challengers Poland on Wednesday.
Asked if he gets the feeling England now expect to win rather than just hope to, he said: “It’s a good observation in that without doubt there’s that confidence in the team, which can only come from the evidence of being able to achieve results and performances that have led to those results.
“We saw that in Hungary, the way they approached the game, the belief, but also that bit of additional motivation from not having quite got to where we wanted to as well.
“That’s a good position for us to be in. But that has to be worked at every day.
“Any slipping of those standards, any suggestion we can win matches by taking our foot off the gas, then we’ll be in trouble.
“The level of competition is too high. The test of any match gives you different problems to solve during the evening.
“While it’s enjoyable to be with this team at the moment because of the things you’ve mentioned, that also can be a dangerous moment, if we allow standards to slip in any way.”
Southgate has built an impressive unit that could secure a record 12th clean sheet in a calendar year, having gone level with England’s 1966 heroes with an 11th shut-out at the weekend.
“I don’t think you can ever underestimate the midfield players as well,” he said of their defence.
“Defending is sometimes taken for granted and I think it’s an art in itself and I think you have to have a pride in defending and there are details that are really important organisationally.
“But also in the desire to really focus on it, take pride in it, take joy in keeping the ball out of the net, enjoy making those last-ditch clearances, making sure your positioning is correct early, making sure your body positioning is right – and communication.
“They are a group who talk well, organise each other. So there’s a real esprit de corps, if you like, about that unit and that’s how it has to be.
“They have got that, they have grasped that and their defensive record over a long period of time now is exceptional. It gives us as a bedrock for the rest of the team to go and play.”
Not only are England preventing goals but scoring them at quite a pace, with Harry Kane now on 40 for his country – joint fifth with Michael Owen in the national team’s all-time rankings.
Southgate likened the Tottenham player’s ability up front to Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and Poland star Lewandowski, whose excellence into his 30s he can see Kane replicating.
“Well, in terms of Kane there is every chance he will go as long as possible because he’s an incredible professional,” the boss added.
“Normally those things are determined by how you look after your body, what you eat, how you prepare. So he’s going to do that and that’s going to give him the best chance.
“You never know what circumstance can happen around that but he will give himself the best chance.”
Southgate admits only time will tell regarding how Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United will impact Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.
Rashford is currently out after undergoing shoulder surgery last month, while Greenwood has played almost every minute of United’s Premier League campaign so far, scoring in each of their opening three games.
Greenwood started the matches against Leeds and Wolves as United’s centre-forward, but the presence of Ronaldo has put the spotlight on how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will line up his team now the Portugal captain is part of his plans.
Asked if he was concerned whether Ronaldo’s arrival would restrict game-time for Greenwood and Rashford or boost the England duo’s development, Southgate said: “I think the league is full of outstanding players, so the players are used to that level of competition every week which is fantastic for them.
“We’ll just have to see what happens at Manchester United, that’s for Ole to decide and manage his squad.
“At every club, we always have to pick up from those selections and how that affects fitness and form.
“It’s not an unusual situation for us. We’ll just have to see how that all plays out really.”