Millwall manager Gary Rowett has given his verdict on England’s World Cup campaign and revealed how Jude Bellingham was always viewed as a future star.
The Lions are in action on Saturday at home to Wigan Athletic with the Three Lions’ quarter-final tie against France kicking off around two hours after the Championship fixture has finished.
“We’ve now become a team that consistently wins big games and consistently gets through to latter stages of tournaments – there have been plenty of times in our national team’s history that we haven’t done that. So you have to applaud Gareth [Southgate], his staff and the current group for doing that.
“You find lots of criticisms in the group stages just because everyone is looking for perfection. But I think we scored the most goals in group qualification and up until now – that’s a massive positive. We’ve got a really strong group of players who can come in and impact the team who probably haven’t needed to yet.
“To be able to leave the likes of Rashford and Sterling out of the team for the last game shows the level of squad depth. It was always going to come down to that last little bit – can we beat a France, or whoever it is, to get through to the last stages and get that final piece done? It’s a really difficult scenario because you’re now against people like Mbappe, who can win the game almost single-handedly.
“I’ve been impressed with what they’ve done so far and how they have progressed. England are at a point now, probably unfairly, where they are just going to be judged on whether they win the World Cup or not – that is going to be success. As a national team manager, whenever you get knocked out you’re going to get criticised. If you win it, that’s probably the only way you’re going to silence any critics.”
Midfielder Bellingham, 19, has underlined his talent – looking fearless on the big stage.
The Stourbridge-born player came through the ranks at Birmingham City, who Rowett managed.
“I remember them bringing Jude down, and his brother, down to my office – he would have been 12 or 13 before a game,” said Rowett. “That’s how highly they thought about Jude.
“To be fair to Kristjaan [Speakman], the academy director at the time, he said he was going to be England captain one day. To have that level of commitment at that stage showed how confident they were in his ability and character. He’s done brilliant. I’m sure a lot of people have helped him on his way but he looks to have all the tools to make the right decisions and to get there regardless.
“The way him and Henderson closed down and kept intercepting balls into midfield [against Senegal] and top players have that uncanny knack of making the right decision, at the right time and when you’re under pressure. That often defines how top a player can be. He did that really, really well. He timed the pass properly and made the right decision. I’m really impressed by his performances as such a young player.”
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