David James: Denmark will test England but this team won't panic
Monday, 5 July 2021
EURO2020.com columnist David James pays tribute to the relaxed, open environment created by England manager Gareth Southgate.
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I'm not always a fan of early goals. When Harry Kane opened the scoring against Ukraine after just four minutes, I had flashbacks to Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-final [a 2-1 defeat]. England had control of the game in the first half in Rome but there was a brief period when I noticed they perhaps weren't pressing as much. England have been guilty in the past of not dominating games they possibly should have done.
But whatever the half-time team talk was, it worked! They went out there and put the game to bed. The beauty of it was that it was a nice, controlled progression from the Germany game.
There's never been a question over whether England have the quality to get to the semi-finals, but talent doesn't work if you're not in the right environment. My pre-tournament optimism was based on the feeling within the squad that I met around the friendlies in Middlesbrough in early June.
What I saw then was a group of players who were really enjoying the moment. It was a group of lads in a really good place. I've been in squads where players all get on, but this felt different.
The fact that some of England's more revered players – Champions League winners in Ben Chilwell and Reece James, no less – haven't necessarily featured so much, shows just how much Gareth Southgate trusts the entire squad.
Gareth is the head of all this as the coach, so he'll take most of the credit. But there's such a big team behind him. I went to meet Gareth up at St George's Park a couple of years ago; we had a chat over lunch and though he didn't exactly reveal any trade secrets, you could see then just how many people were involved and doing their jobs at the top level to make sure this team are right.
During the World Cup in 2018, I even messaged the guys doing the Instagram account to tell them they were doing a fantastic job. I was following that as an England fan and loving it – the access they're giving to the fans is showing what I believe to be the true feeling inside the camp.
If Gareth creates an open, relaxed environment like that, he knows it's for the best for the players, too. There seems to be such a strong connection between the players and the staff – absolutely everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Gareth experimented when he was Under-21s manager and he's used his own experiences. When we were playing together [with Aston Villa and England], we didn't necessarily talk about management, but Gareth was always a highly intelligent guy. He's used his own experiences to guide him on how to treat other players. He's had a long-term plan which is starting to come to fruition – it's exciting!
This isn't an England team that goes out to smash the opposition; they're a team that want to manage games. There'll be moments against Denmark when they'll have to think differently, whether they've conceded or whether they're unable to find a way through. I'm confident they can mix their game up when required.
Denmark will get opportunities on Wednesday – that's inevitable – but I'm yet to see any panic from England. Even when Thomas Müller went clean through in the last 16, Jordan Pickford didn't panic and England certainly didn't panic afterwards. They gathered themselves and scored a second. There was no sign they were under pressure.
There just seems to be a calmness about the team, which I like. Denmark will test them. The unanswered question is what happens if England come under pressure. I'm confident they'll have a plan to come through it.