Southgate confident about England U21s future

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Gareth Southgate is still coming to terms with what happened to England Under-21s during the summer but insists he is not feeling the pressure ahead of a new Young Lions campaign.

Southgate’s men won all but one of their fixtures in qualifying for the 2015 European Championship, but crashed out of June’s finals in the Czech Republic at the first hurdle, finishing bottom of their group.

On Tuesday the squad was announced for their first fixtures since then, a friendly against the United States Under-23s a week on Thursday in Preston followed by a Euro 2017 qualifier in Norway the Monday after. And manager Southgate, who has selected 14 uncapped players among his 23-man party, said of Euro 2015: “I’m not over it. We have internal debriefs and it is good to reflect on everything. There are certain key areas (for improvement).”

But, then asked if he felt under pressure, he added: “No. Within football, at a certain level there is always an assessment of performance - you don’t sit there and think ‘I can do what I like and I’ll be fine’. You are driven to improve all the time.

“But also, we are starting with a completely new group, so there is going to be a period before we know the best team.”

Southgate - handed a contract extension in January to 2017 - recently had his role modified from the remit he was given when appointed in August 2013.

Previously also overseeing the age groups from the Under-20s down to the Under-16s, the 44-year-old will now be focused far more on the Under-21s - something he stresses was planned prior to the Euro 2015 finals.

And Southgate says he is looking forward, still full of belief about his position and the set-up.

He said: “I very much believe in my capabilities as a coach and a manager, I’ve learned a lot over the two-year period and I think we’ve implemented a very good programme.

“I look at the bigger picture but other people will have to judge it as they see it.”

There was plenty of talk during Euro 2015 about the string of eligible senior internationals who were not involved.

Notable eligible players not included this time are Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Luke Shaw - and Southgate has emphasised the feeling they are senior England internationals who are ‘’very unlikely’’ to feature for his side again.

He has pointed out the Under-21s “cannot just be about winning tournaments”.

Southgate said: “It is always a dual purpose. In the end you will be judged on results, but the programme is about much more than that.

‘’If others emerge to challenge for the seniors, brilliant. The seniors is always the priority.’’

Two of the players in Southgate’s squad uncapped at Under-21 level are Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Jordon Ibe.

Defender Gomez - who has already featured in Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19 internationals - has impressed so far this term in three starts for his new club.

And Southgate said of the 18-year-old: “It wasn’t a straightforward decision because the policy is generally not to move them up too early, but we think he deserves it on merit.”

Meanwhile, winger Ibe - holder of England Under-18s, Under-19s and Under-20s caps - is reportedly wanted by Nigeria.

Southgate said: “I guess that’s something I will pick up with him, but there’s never been any indication to us.

“I understand why Nigeria would want to push it from their end but he has always been in our system and we don’t see that changing.”

England Under-21s squad: Angus Gunn (Manchester City), Jordan Pickford (Preston North End - on loan from Sunderland), Christian Walton (Bury - on loan from Brighton), Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Brendan Galloway (Everton), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Kortney Hause, Dominic Iorfa (both Wolves), Jack Stephens (Middlesbrough - on loan from Southampton), Matt Targett (Southampton), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Chuba Akpom (Hull - on loan from Arsenal), Jordon Ibe (Liverpool), Solly March (Brighton), Nathan Redmond (Norwich), Duncan Watmore (Sunderland), James Wilson (Manchester United), Cauley Woodrow (Fulham).