This is not fantasy football – Steve Holland says England can’t cram in forwards

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and assistant Steve Holland
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and assistant Steve Holland (PA Archive)
22:45pm, Fri 11 Jun 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

England assistant manager Steve Holland has warned fans not to expect “fantasy football” at the European Championship.

The Three Lions coach revealed Gareth Southgate knows his team and formation for the Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.

But, despite the wealth of attacking options available, Holland insists England will not make the same mistakes as other nations at past tournaments by shoehorning all of their forwards into the team.

The 51-year-old pointed to Argentina’s unsuccessful 2018 World Cup campaign as a fine example when he was asked what he thought of the predicted XIs he had seen in recent days.

“It is nice to be involved in a team where so many people have got an interest and a view,” he said when asked about the opinions former professionals have about the England team.

“One day I will be involved with a team that nobody cares about and I will know I’m in trouble.

“I think we are all enjoying that. I would say only this, going back to the World Cup in 2018, for example, Argentina, they had (Paulo) Dybala, (Angel) Di Maria, (Sergio) Aguero, (Gonzalo) Higuain, Lionel Messi.

“Mauro Icardi didn’t make the squad. So you have an amazing array of talent, but they went out in the round of 16.

“This is not fantasy football. It is nice to play that game, but you can’t just throw four or five players together.

The Argentina team at the 2018 World Cup (PA Archive)

“What that team showed is that if you try to cram too many in you don’t even get the best of the individuals that if you play with fewer, they can provide.”

With captain Harry Kane leading the line, there will be a number of players hoping for a role behind the striker who will be left disappointed when they see the team sheet for the Croatia game.

But Holland is clear that the whole squad will be called upon if England are to enjoy a successful tournament, saying: “Our challenge is clear, we have to find the right balance.

“That will differ from game to game and I think that will look different in the first minute than it does in the 90th. And those guys that walk off the pitch in the 90th minute are every bit as important, if not more important than those that walk out before the national anthems.

“I think it is a really healthy situation that we have and as we progress through, the team that starts the first game for the successful teams is never the team that starts at the end.

“I remember when I was in my late teens, Marco Van Basten in 1988 was a sub first game. He won the Golden Boot.

Marco Van Basten (PA Archive)

“In Italia 90, Salvatore Schillaci was a sub in the first game and also won the Golden Boot, so these are the realities of tournament life.”

This will be Southgate and Holland’s first crack at Euros success following the World Cup semi-final in Russia.

England crashed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland despite boasting a strong squad but Holland feels the current crop can deal with the pressure.

“We are settled now. There is no element of being unsettled,” he said.

“Off the back of Euro 2016, particularly the Iceland game – I have so much respect for Roy and his staff – but it’s been accepted that the sum of the parts didn’t represent what the capability was.

“When the pressure came there was a bit of a performance fall because the players’ weren’t comfortable with that pressure.

Euro 2020 Preview Package (PA Wire)

“So the number one priority for Russia was to try and be very specific with the requirements and roles of the players in one way of playing.

“We pretty much stuck with that all the way through, and I think we achieved that. We’re now in a different moment.

“We have half of the squad who played Russia so they have come through that process and also three years in between. We also have a lot of younger players who are coming from our top clubs.”

Sign up to our newsletter