Published On: Sun, Jun 17th, 2018

Dean Ashton Q&A: Southgate's fixing bond between England players, fans

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Finally, England‘s World Cup campaign is about to begin.

The Three Lions kick off their tournament against Tunisia on Monday and, in the run-up to the much-anticipated affair, former England striker Dean Ashton discusses selection issues, what to expect from the Eagles of Carthage, and the relationship between the players and fans in the latest of his Q&As with theScore.

Are you surprised to see Gary Cahill omitted from the provisional lineup reported across many British media outlets?

Dean Ashton: Not really. I do feel as if Gareth Southgate wants to give a fresher look to the England team and give younger players with less experience a chance. Gary Cahill‘s been there and done it which is great to have that experience, but the whole point of not allowing the likes of Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere to come is because we want to give other players an opportunity to test themselves. It would surprise me more if Cahill does start.

What does Harry Maguire bring to the defence, other than his imposing frame?

DA: In defensive situations as an attacker, when you want to win the ball back against a defender who’s calm on the ball he can make you look stupid, he can make you work a lot harder. England want to keep a lot more possession, make the opposition work, and Maguire‘s shown he’s more than capable to be comfortable on the ball and actually bring the ball out and start attacks.

And are you surprised to see that Ashley Young might get the nod over Danny Rose?

DA: Yeah, I am. I know he’s had a fantastic season with Manchester United and his performances have been consistently good, but it would surprise not to have someone of Danny Rose‘s quality. I personally think it’s important to have somebody who’s left footed on that side to balance things out. Ashley Young is always going to come back inside, back into traffic. I think Danny Rose at his best is probably one of the top five left-backs in the world.

Could England lack pace with Young in the lineup?

DA: Yes. Ashley Young’s not slow, but obviously he’s not going to go past anybody. But we don’t know what Gareth Southgate’s seeing, so if in training he likes the look of how Ashley’s playing I think we’ve got to give Gareth Southgate a little bit of space to make his judgments, especially in the first couple of games.

DR: Would you try to find a place for Marcus Rashford in the starting XI if he was fit?

DA: Not necessarily. I think that’s what we’ve got to get away from. It can’t just be about one player, it has to be about how the team are going to play, how the team are going to function. What a great asset to have in Marcus Rashford coming off the bench. It’s the same with Jamie Vardy; that electric pace that can hurt teams when they’re tired.

Jesse Lingard isn’t particularly quick or technically gifted – but why is he so good?

DA: Defensively he’s a player that you can put in and trust that he’ll do that side of the job, but also he’s just very, very good at making late, well-timed runs into the box. It’s an art form, and not many players can do it. He’s excellent at it. And his awareness of where his teammates are and the link-up play that he can provide between the midfield and the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling is important. We’re lacking that real creativity and he’s one of those players that, with his runs, can open up space for others.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

What do you think England can expect from Tunisia?

DA: A tough test against a team that will probably play a 4-5-1 and look to sit deep. I think they’ll be really, really tough to break down. To run Spain close and only lose 1-0, to draw with Turkey and Portugal, and to beat Iran and Costa Rica – they’re in good form coming in. That’s been our issue in the past: We feel as if we’re going to play a team like Tunisia and beat them easily. It’s not going to be the case. We have to give them a lot of respect.

How do you break down a team like that?

DA: With patience. If you look at the teams that are best at it – the likes of Germany and Spain and Brazil – they don’t rush into anything. They keep the ball and look to draw the opposition out. Then you’re relying on some quality; you’re relying on your forward players to create that little opening, to produce that little magic or that killer pass.

The England camp has a 10-pin bowling alley, a snooker table, table football, air hockey, a PlayStation, and generous media access. Do you think this stuff is helpful?

DA: I think those sorts of things are put there to make sure that if players want to relax and have a bit of fun they can do without having to think about going out of the complex. I don’t necessarily think players will use that ever so much. You’re so concentrated on the training and the preparation.

Do you think the increased media access is a ploy to try and avoid the negative headlines that often follow the national team around?

DA: I don’t think it’s necessarily just for the press, I think it’s for England fans in general. I think Gareth Southgate wants to give more access to the players, to be more open, to engage with the media and the supporters. We’ve lacked that bond between the players and the fans which you see with other countries. I think it’s so important, it can get you over the line in difficult situations when you’ve got that support. I think Gareth Southgate’s doing exactly the right thing to try and bond everybody together to push in the right direction.

From your experiences with the national team did it often feel like there was a disconnect with the fans?

DA: Yeah. In terms of media coverage you were always told to be careful what you say, and certainly when you were travelling with England there weren’t many open sessions for you to meet the supporters. At games it was a very closed house. I think what we’ve seen with this England squad is definitely different from what I’ve been involved in and watched in recent years, and they look a lot more relaxed and engaged, and hopefully that’s going to show on the pitch. We’ll have to wait and see the performances on the pitch – it could all change!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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