Gareth Southgate returns to the Riverside manager’s chair next Monday as the former Boro boss mastermind’s young England against the old enemy Germany. The former Middlesbrough cup final winning centre half and skipper will have a present day Boro centre back in his squad in Ben Gibson. Fingers crossed the Boro regular gets a start in this 7.45pm kick off.
A big crowd is guaranteed with tickets having been snapped up for the chance to see the stars of the future. Some of us will recall back at the dawning of the Riverside Ashley Cole making an England Under 21 appearance. It would be wonderful to think that Ben Gibson could go on to emulate some of Cole’s century of full England caps.
Here is a little interview that Gareth Southgate gave me at the squad reveal press conference at the Riverside last week. Make sure you get one of the remaining tickets to watch this intriguing friendly international, a warm up for the summer’s international tournament.
Q: How are looking forward to coming back and managing at the Riverside?
GS: Yes. I am enjoying the role I have got. They are a really good group of players to work with. Not just the lads this time that are here this time but others through the 18 months. They are not quite where they want to be yet so that means there is a hunger about them and a desire to learn. We are trying to establish a brand of football with all of the junior England teams that this group I guess are a figurehead for and so I do put them under a bit more pressure in terms of how we want to play. But we think they can handle the ball and it is important that they do that in big matches.
Q: It is surely very healthy that we have so many players playing regular first team football.
GS: We have some fantastic academies and Middlesbrough is obviously one of those but at the end of that pathway there has got to be opportunity and thankfully now I think people are getting belief from seeing other young English players go in and doing well and they’re now thinking yes we had got kids at our club that could do that and hopefully over the next couple of years that will snowball.
Q: We are seeing in countries like Spain for instance the emphasis on Under 21s and in the past players Like Juan Mata have stayed at Under 21 level for tournaments to gain experience at that level.
GS: Yes, well I think the only way to do that is to have depth and so over the last year a lot of our lads have moved up to the senior team because Roy has decided to do with some younger players. That will get harder because the group that have gone up we think are strong. We have tried not to draw from our Under 19 group too much. There’s quite a lot of the group that are with us for this trip (Czech Republic and v Germany at Riverside) that are eligible for the next campaign and that’s what we think the level should be for the Under 21s and then underneath that it should be hard for people to progress too quickly. So, we want that exposure to be right. As Roy has done, he will put them in when he thinks there is an opportunity. But we hope that that pathway gets harder and harder to get in and that the standard goes higher and higher.
Q: As for the Middlesbrough Riverside international it must be great to be bringing the Under 21s to a club on the up and having a big season?
GS: Yes, absolutely. I have felt from coming to the game against Birmingham at the beginning of the year that there was a good feel about the place. There has been investment in the team, good coaching in place, good structure in place. And clearly the club are on a high, you can see the amount of away support that is going to matches and that is always a good indication of how a team are doing, From the outside I think they look really well placed, not just because of the way they are playing but the way they are defend as well. That is key to winning championships and they don’t get exposed and that organisation is important.
Q: Talking about defending Ben Gibson is in the squad. He has claimed and kept a place in the Middlesbrough team throughout this season and come on so well to push himself ahead of Kenneth Omeruo or even Jonathan Woodgate to be a regular starter.
GS: Yes. No it is huge credit to Ben. We have really enjoyed working with him, he is an impressive character. He has got good leadership skills. He is developing into a good defender. We think that exposure to international football will help his work with the ball as well. When you have got leaders like him in the side and he is one of the younger ones then that gives you a chance. I think Middlesbrough have got good leadership, I see people like George Friend and Leadbitter and you need those strong personalties really.