Gareth Southgate knows the negativity around him is “not healthy” for the team and urged England fans to vent any frustration at him rather than the players ahead of Monday’s World Cup send-off against Germany.
England’s five-game winless run is their longest since 2014 and Friday’s meek 1-0 loss at absentee-hit Italy saw them relegated from the Nations League’s top tier with a game to spare.
Monday’s clash with Germany is a dead rubber as a result, but it remains key for England in terms of improving the mood and rebuilding confidence in their final match before the World Cup.
There is an air of negativity around the team with just 57 days to go until the Group B opener against Iran and Southgate says supporters need to get behind the players, whatever their feelings are about him.
The England boss was subjected to chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” during June’s 4-0 loss to Hungary in their last home match and then booed by some travelling fans in Milan.
“We’ve got 90,000 people, the stadium’s sold out,” Southgate said ahead of Monday’s Group A3 encounter. “People want to come and see this team play.
“That’s because the players have done an unbelievable job for six years.
“We were on the back of a really difficult time, in terms of relationship with the fans, at the start of that journey.
“Slowly we’ve built the (tournament) finishes that have been discussed already in this room.
“Of course it’s not healthy for the team to be having this noise around them. I fully understand that.
“But it’s for me to take responsibility, it’s for me to allow them to go and play. I want them to feel the freedom.
“I think they know that we always talk about that within the training ground and on the training pitch.
“I would urge the supporters to get behind the team. How they deal with me at the end or whenever, on the phone-ins or whatever else, is completely different.
“But this is their last chance to see the boys before they go to the World Cup and we’re all in it together.
“We can only succeed if we’re all pushing in the same direction and we’ve all got that positive energy towards doing well.
“What happens to me is irrelevant, frankly. It’s about the team. The most important thing is the team and the success of the team.”
It feels like there is a lot riding on Monday’s match for last year’s European Championship runners-up, who appear to have lost their way and be struggling for coherency at just the wrong time.
Southgate remains convinced he is the right person to lead England into the World Cup and confident that the team will click in Qatar but he is “not hiding” from criticism and has long been braced for it.
“Look, I am fortunate that I am now, sadly, in my fifties,” the 57-cap former defender said. “I have been in football 30 years.
“In one guise or other, I’ve been to 12 tournaments. Whether that’s working with these chaps or scouting.
“This will be my seventh as a player or a coach, so I have seen pretty much everything.
“I have seen the cycle of war with the media. I have seen the absolute love-in.
“We are somewhere in the middle of that – or maybe not quite in the middle! That is fascinating to observe from my side.
“And it’s a life experience that I knew at some stage would probably come with this job, so I have to accept that.
“I didn’t ever get too carried away with what happened before and I am not too down about what is happening now.
“I want to put it right, of course. I want the team to win, I want the team to play well and I want the fans to be happy. That’s why I took the job.
“I wanted to make a difference with English football, so that will never change and I’ll keep working every hour I have to try and improve what we are doing.”