Gareth Southgate has emphasised that there are no divisions in England’s representative sides following the publication of a photograph of the Under-20s which showed two tables at mealtime, one populated by black players and the other by white.
The picture was published in Saturday’s Daily Mail and showed seven white players on one table and seven black ones on the other. The paper printed a further picture of the squad in a swimming pool, in which all of the players, black and white, appear to be joking together.
“It’s quite clear from my experience of England junior teams that there is no issue,’’ said Southgate, the manager of the Under-21s side who face Sweden here in Olomouc on Sunday. “It was a picture that was unrepresentative of what goes on in our development teams.
“Anyone who’s seen this [Under-21] group of players and staff mix over the last two years or who’s been around the hotel or around the training ground for the last two weeks will see the realities of the situation.
“I’m looking out at the [press] room and not seeing a very multicultural room. Football can improve. I grew up in a [Crystal Palace] dressing-room when I first started playing with Chris Powell and John Salako, team-mates at youth-team level and still very close friends of mine. Mark [Bright] and Ian [Wright] were in the first team. I don’t know any different.
“Football crosses religion, race, everything else. I am well aware of the problems in society and I’m well aware that we can all do better but I find the accusation of a split within the teams and in football a little bit difficult to stomach really.”
Southgate also responded to the claim by the Swedish defender Ludwig Augustinsson that England are “a little overrated”, although the Copenhagen player was referring as much to the inflated nature of the fees that English players go for.
“It has been posted next to the meal room,’’ Southgate said. “It doesn’t do my job for me but it is always interesting when the opposition make comments about your players.”
Augustinsson had added of English players that “some players go for such sick amounts of money in England and is a bit more expensive than what they are worth. To take an example, Germany is a much better squad. We’ll see tomorrow how good they are.”
Earlier in the day, Rio Ferdinand had said on Twitter: “English players are soooo overpriced right now it's a joke! Kane & sterling have huge potential but 40m & 50m...aguero 38m & sanchez 32m!!!”
John Guidetti, the Swedish Under-21 striker, also spoke of the cost of English players, arguing that Harry Kane would be “well worth every penny”.
Guidetti added: “Everyone around the world now knows who Harry Kane is. He’s a very good footballer. Many people say that he scores many easy goals but that’s what makes a magical player. Everyone wants a player who scores many goals.”
So how much was Guidetti, who has been newly released by Manchester City, worth?
“I do not know,” he said. “I am a Bosman, so a cheeseburger costs more than me!”