Harry Kane has insisted the intensity of club rivalries will not disrupt the harmony established by Gareth Southgate within the senior England squad and ruled out a return to the days when cliques undermined the team’s progress.
Members of the national squad will find themselves in direct confrontation over the next few weeks as Manchester City and Liverpool go head to head in the Premier League title race and City meet Tottenham in the Champions League quarter-finals. Club rivalries have spilled over into England get-togethers in the past, most notably between the contingents from Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, with players reluctant to mix together.
Those divisions have been cited by those involved as a contributing factor to the national team’s failures at major tournaments. Yet, despite Kyle Walker taking to social media to revel in Harry Maguire’s late equaliser against Liverpool in a league game in January, Kane believes the unity nurtured by Southgate will survive any tensions generated by the clubs’ most fiercely contested run-in of recent years.
“We’ve heard about things happening in the past: people sitting on different tables and teams being divided,” said the Spurs striker. “You just can’t have that in a team. You need to be 100% together.
“The great thing about this team is we have a bit of fun, a laugh and a joke, but we know when we are here it is all about England and we put the club stuff to one side. Even with the Liverpool and City boys it is 100% England. I’m sure when we go back [to the clubs] there’ll be plenty of text messages and group messages flying about. We have got a great bond here and at the end of the day we’re all good friends whether we play for one club or another. We get on very well. When we are back at our clubs it is 100% about winning but we have that respect for each other so we can talk to each other and be friends.
“That has been part of our success and it’s kind of happened naturally. Everyone looks forward to coming away with England and meeting up again. Hendo [Jordan Henderson] has been getting on with Raheem [Sterling], and Walks [Kyle Walker] with Trent [Alexander-Arnold]. With Hendo and Raheem, for example, they’ve known each other a long time. Of course they want to beat each other but they’re not going to let that get in the way of what’s important this week, which is the international game. I don’t need to talk to them about that or anything. They do that naturally.”
Kane trained with the squad at St George’s Park on Tuesday, with the uncapped Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi given their first run-out with the senior squad. Marcus Rashford sat out the session with a slight ankle problem, rendering him a doubt for Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Czech Republic at a sold-out Wembley. The United forward has been troubled by the issue since the goalless draw with Liverpool almost a month ago. Jadon Sancho – who scored a Panenka against Jack Butland in the penalty shootout that concluded training – and Hudson-Odoi are potential replacements if he is not risked.
The World Cup and Nations League semi-finalists go into their qualification campaign as favourites to progress from the group and with expectations raised. “We feel that: people now expecting us to do well where, before the World Cup, there was no expectation,” Kane said. “It is great that we have turned that around. It is down to us as players to use that experience to manage expectations. We’ve handled it really well since the World Cup; we’re the only team who got into the semi-finals at the World Cup and through their Nations League group, and we probably had one of the hardest groups.
“That was big for us, to prove to everyone that it wasn’t just a one-off, that this team were really building for something special in the future. Everyone handles expectation differently. We still have players who are very young and inexperienced in this squad, so we have to manage them and make sure everyone’s OK and comfortable with the situation.
“As one of the experienced players in the squad, it’s down to us to do that,” Kane continued. “All we can do is play the way we have been playing, and play with that freedom. Our aim is to win the Nations League and we’re more than capable of doing that if we fully focus.”