Changing Ways: How Will This England Camp Be Different?

The wait is over, England’s opening group game against Tunisia is upon the nation.

A feeling of optimism is the in the air with an untroubled build-up to the tournament – rifle tattoo’s aside – combined with a team yet to look convincing thus far in Russia; there’s plenty of reason to be positive.

Is football finally coming home? Unlikely, but let’s not flush away England’s chances just yet.

Much of the media attention in previous major tournaments for England has been surrounded by negativity and hostile camps. The Iron Fist rule of Fabio Capello made England’s World Cup camp seem more like a school detention centre, and the recent calamities under Roy Hodgson left goalkeeper Joe Hart awkwardly unable to reveal who was the best darts player in the England squad.

With both on-field and off-field performances so poor at recent tournaments, a regular question coming into Russia 2018 has been, how will England players remain stimulated? Jermain Defoe revealed of such boredom during the 2010 World Cup that the striker watched Wayne Rooney’s wedding tape from start to finish to entertain himself; likely to be a safe bet knowing Rooney’s antics off the pitch.

Jermain Defoe scored the only goal in England’s one-nil win over Slovenia in 2010 – Photo by Jamie McDonald

The English camp

With England’s average age being younger than ever before at a major tournament, 26 years and 18 days, parts of the media have argued a lack of stimulation could lead to increased levels of boredom for such a young group. The team’s hotel is a 45-minute drive from St Petersburg and journalist, Olga Mordvina, believes the squad would have fared better being in the city:

“It’s a quiet village full of trees but not people. England’s players would have been better off staying in St Petersburg, which has lots of activities and sightseeing.”

To make the camp sound less enticing, some TripAdvisor reviews on the hotel have been released:

-Poor swimming pool with a lot of water chemicals, fair sauna and dirty hammam with disgusting steam quality.

-The breakfast is simply tasteless – waited in a line for the one and only coffee machine in the world? Maintenance is below standard.

Although the cost of £104-per-night is a modest amount compared to the team’s £500-a-night hotel in Euro 2016, the reports on this World Cup’s camp have a reason for the players to question the facilities and puts further spotlight into the ‘boredom’ debate. 

It’s been revealed captain, Harry Kane, has already played 110 Fortnite matches in the hotel – Photo from PA Images

Changing ways

However, despite Gareth Southgate initially receiving heavy criticism as an ‘FA-yes-man’ who looked unlikely to turn England fortunes around, the former defender has quietly gone around changing a camp of cliques and hierarchy to a team built on unity; their understated accommodation says that more than anything.

“From people I speak to, we like the lack of assumption in the team, the lack of ego and the lack of cliques.”

— Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Federation

There seems no real pecking order in the camp. Such is the unassuming nature of a hierarchal system, the leadership group is not full of obvious choices: Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson and Ashley Young – a group with just 114 caps between them – skipper Wayne Rooney earnt his 115th-cap during *that* Iceland defeat in 2016.

Ragnar Sigurdsson of Iceland celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 victory over England – Photo by Laurence Griffiths

It’s a fresh team, with a new vision, and a side that does not carry baggage from previous tournaments. The overwhelming separation in previous World Cup’s is clear to see with Jamie Carragher commenting on the 2010 atmosphere:

“One of my lingering memories of being in South Africa in 2010 was watching group games with Fabio Capello, Stuart Pearce and Steven Gerrard. Looking back, it was odd no others joined us.

“I do not know what everyone else was doing. Here was a chance to watch different teams, potential future opponents, but only two players sat with the England manager.

–Jamie Carragher, speaking to the Telegraph

This campaign does not have the feeling that players will be unaware if they are in the starting XI just two hours before kick-off, or have a desperation that saw a head coach recall players from retirement right before a tournament began. It’s a camp which has seen boredom replaced with Fortnite and closed doors replaced with open media and training sessions.

Claims of boredom have quickly been stamped out by the likes of Gary Lineker and Southgate himself who replied on the matter with,  “my old physio at Aston Villa said, ‘Only boring people get bored’”. This young English group have plenty of reason to be excited about the tournament and look ahead to what should be the greatest few weeks of their lives.

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