A photo of a scribbled team lineup, spotted in the hands of an assistant coach, threatens to sour the unusually cordial World Cup relations between the England team and its travelling media pack.
Four years after the team leadership banned reporters for snooping on closed training sessions in Brazil, the latest prying took place in open training. While counterparts had their lenses tracking the players before Sunday’s game against Panama, the London Evening Standard newspaper’s Jeremy Selywn snapped a piece of paper in the hands of Steve Holland showing players in formation.
Now the England camp is actually asking media: Are you with us or against us?
“Try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world, because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament,” defender Kyle Walker said Friday. “You guys have to do your little bit. So if you could just please help us with that, it would be polite.”
Holland apologized to the squad at training on Friday in Repino, near St. Petersburg.
“We had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it,” Walker said. “We knocked it on the head at that.”
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The revelation was the first indication the squad had that Raheem Sterling could be dropped after struggling to make an impression in the opening win against Tunisia on Monday and Marcus Rashford could lead the attack with captain Harry Kane.
Southgate, though, wasn’t planning to disclose the starting XI until Saturday when England flies to Nizhny Novgorod to play Panama the following night.
“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team, it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate told Talksport radio station. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not. Given that was just a squad list, it doesn’t make any difference to us really.”
In keeping with his relaxed persona, Southgate went on to emphasize that the incident was “no drama.”
A former England defender, Southgate has tried to reduce the friction between reporters and players by giving more access to players — even after news conferences. The squad and journalists have been competing at pub sports in Russia. That continued on Friday , with striker Jamie Vardy taking on a reporter at pool, even as the media defended the right to publish Holland’s handwritten notes.
“Let’s just be clear on one thing,” tweeted Matt Law, a football writer for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “The pic of the England team was taken in an OPEN training session in which photographers and cameramen are invited to take pictures. You may not agree with it being published, but there was certainly no hiding in bushes.”
At the 2014 World Cup, some reporters did find vantage points in Rio de Janeiro to watch private training sessions, which irritated the then-England coaching staff, including Gary Neville.
The publication of the lineup at this tournament — even without the need for spying “undermines the relationship and trust with the team,” according to Neville, who is working in Russia as a TV pundit.
Rob Harris, The Associated Press