Gareth Southgate hopes his youthful side can redefine England’s reputation for ‘happy football’ after being told by a Chinese journalist that the Three Lions enjoy comical status in the country.
Southgate had almost wrapped up his pre-match press commitments when the FIFA moderator offered the closing question to Li Chen, who blind-sided the England boss with his offering.
Having first informed Southgate about the phrase he then revealed the embarrassing connotations – adding that England sides were seen as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘hilarious’ on Chinese social media site Webo. Chen also name-checked Raheem Sterling in his question.
Southgate took it in good spirits and even admitted he may have been one of those responsible for the notion.
“I think, in your description of ‘happy football’, I’m one of the most guilty people of the ‘happy football’ experience,” he said.
“We have decades of those incidents. (But) history is not the important thing for this team. “They have an opportunity to create their own history. They should be excited about that.
“They’re a young team who will get better and better. I enjoy working with all of them, and I’m intrigued to find out how far they can go and how well they can play. I hope we give you a different sort of happy football over the next few weeks.”
Chen told Press Association Sport a little more about his question and appeared more than happy with Southgate’s response.
“In China the England team plays a comic role, a hilarious role,” he said.
“At every World Cup, every European Cup we make fun of the England team, the England players for their hilarious behaviours. But ‘happy football’ is not humiliating others, it is a kind joke from our love of football.
“Gareth Southgate has shown great manner. I thought my question might offend him, but he said the England team will change the past and make another (type of) happy football. All the England fans in China would like to see a brand new England team this year.”