Gareth Southgate has stressed that a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup represents progress not success and wants to achieve more than a warm welcome when the squad finally returns home.
From a public relations standpoint, England’s Russian summer has been a runaway triumph – with the bond between supporters and players tangibly rebuilt and scenes of riotous celebrations marking a penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia that has been 22 years in the making.
But Southgate, whose stock is rising with each passing day and every adulatory social media meme, is approaching Saturday’s eagerly anticipated clash against Sweden with a sense of perspective.
“We have made progress but we haven’t achieved success yet,” he told FIFA.com.
“My feet are firmly on the ground. I’ve been in football for 30 years, and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs.
“That night (against Colombia) was a great night for all of us but my focus was pretty quickly on to Sweden because we are in the last eight of a World Cup.
“We want more of those experiences and we want to go as far as we possibly can.”
At the outset of the competition, consensus suggested a place in the last eight would be a good effort from Southgate’s youthful squad. But the goalposts have been shifting in recent days and even the level-headed manager has shifted his sights.
He told ITV: “We’re at stage where we could go home now, get a nice reception – we’ve won a knock-out game, a shoot-out – or we can go stages further and really have made a difference and created our own history.
“We said before we came we wanted to make the nation proud, a way of us behaving to do that, but we needed to win some football matches as well.”
Southgate also revealed that the enjoyment of fans back home was having a clear impact on the squad.
The number of travelling fans has been well down on recent tournaments, for a variety of reasons, but the celebratory scenes of supporters the length and breadth of England have not gone unnoticed in camp.
“The power of football to connect people can’t be underestimated,” he said.
“It’s nice to see that people are happy, are talking about it at work and it’s a privilege to have that opportunity.”
“The players are excited because a lot of their experiences with England, they’ve felt isolated in camp and had to fight against the tide. They feel supported and a real collective energy.
“The players are responding to the warmth, the encouragement. The team talks have to change, there’s a warm glow of having done well in games.
Southgate also sounded a note of caution about Sweden, whose current FIFA ranking of 24 places them 12 behind England and eight below Colombia.
That is potentially misleading given the qualified ahead of Holland, beat Italy in a play-off and topped the group which Germany finished bottom of here in Russia.
“They’re a team I respect enormously,” Southgate said.
“They have a very clear identity and have had absolutely incredible results, really, against more favoured countries with bigger reputations.
“I’ve played enough matches against Sweden over the years and watched them enough in tournaments to know how strong they are.”