Stuart Pearce outlines England’s keys to success at the World Cup and why Gareth Southgate is vital

Stuart Peace has been to World Cups and European Championships as a player, as well as managing England youth sides at international tournaments. So what could the current England crop of players learn from him ahead of the World Cup in Russia?

Pearce was part of the England sides that reached the semi-finals at the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996, and finished his playing career with 78 international caps.

From group camaraderie to the importance of the manager, the former defender analysed England’s challenges and expectations this summer…

Pressure levels

“It’s chalk and cheese playing for your club and country. The pressures are that much higher when you play for your country and then at a tournament it ramps up again.

“Playing for your country is the pinnacle of what any professional does so with that comes the pressure of big tournaments. It’s not like qualification. There is so much pressure and if you don’t win the first group game then you are almost in knockout football already. It keeps getting bigger in terms of pressure.”

Finding the balance

“Any team that has gone to the latter stage of any tournament will probably say that it is the strength and togetherness that has played a big part in that. Then on top of that are the results. The squad and the team grow in confidence and togetherness the further you go in tournaments.

“Whenever you take any team to a major tournament you try to make sure the preparation is correct and the players have an enjoyable time as well as enjoying each other’s company. I think everything you do on and off the pitch is vitally important. You need everything together to take into tournament football.

“Certain managers have a different level of flexibility depending on where the tournament is and the exposure is. I have taken U21 teams and U20 teams to finals and you can be a bit more relaxed and flexible than you can with the senior England party who are under so much scrutiny.

“Once tournaments start and you get in the swing and you have the travelling, recovery and the focus of all the other matches, which players will be watching, you find there is not there much time and availability to fill, but leading into the tournament it is about getting the balance right.”

Focus on football

“The stuff that has happened with Raheem Sterling in the newspapers is such a ridiculously small issue that has been blown out of proportion and got a lot of coverage. You tend to find that between the end of the season and the start of the tournament, people have got to fill a few pages, but once the football starts the focus will be solely on the football.

“With someone like Raheem he has been around the game long enough not to worry about it and he is one of the players who could be very influential for England in the summer. He has had a fantastic season for his club and he won’t worry about that.

“You tend to be in a bubble at tournaments because you are not privy to what is going on, especially if you are out of the country. I had no idea with my first tournament in Italy about the support we had back home. Obviously, it’s different now with social media but you are so focused on the job that you have at hand that you concentrate on that rather on what is happening back home.”

Southgate’s experience

“The manager is absolutely vital. He has worn the shirt and been to the tournaments, he knows exactly what it takes to get over the line.

“He will have it all in place and it’s a case of making sure the travel plans are right and everything else so the players can deliver at their best. Every time Gareth puts a player on the pitch he knows exactly what they are going through, physically and mentally. It will be a big bonus and it’s one of the big strengths he brings to the party. He has an affinity with the players so that will be helpful.

“It’s quite a youthful set-up, very energetic as a squad and from the outside the players look as though they enjoy each other’s company. It will be interesting to see how they get on. It seems like they get on well as a group.”

Stuart Pearce was speaking at the McDonald’s & Huntingdon FA Community Football Day in St Ives. These football days are taking place across the UK this summer, giving thousands of children the chance to enjoy the beautiful game.