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I never enjoyed the World Cup - England must remember that it's fun

England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

I never enjoyed being at the World Cup. This is not an admission of which I am proud. In fact, it is one of my biggest regrets as a footballer. If I had my time again, my attitude would be different. Playing for England should be a thrill as well as privilege. For too many it became a chore.

Assessing how it could have been better, I have to be honest. I blame myself. If I could go back, I would give myself a shake and demand I soak it up and revel in it.

I played my first international tournament at 16 but during the course of my youth and senior England career failed to do myself justice.

The biggest, most obvious problem was I never played much at the World Cup. I was always a back-up rather than starter, which I found difficult to adjust to.

I never embraced the World Cup experience because I was never sure how much I would be involved. No-one enjoys being a squad player. Another problem was I cared more about my club than country.

I know people find that difficult to understand, but that is how I was.

Liverpool was my obsession and that impacted on my focus. I was proud to get an England call-up, but it was not the summit of my ambition.

Anfield was often on my mind. I spent a lot of time in South Africa in 2010 trying to find out who was replacing Rafa Benítez as Liverpool manager, calling Danny Murphy to get the lowdown on Roy Hodgson or Pepe Reina and Gérard Houllier to talk about whether Manuel Pellegrini or Didier Deschamps would be better.

In 2006, I was texting home to find out who we were signing in time for pre-season training.

I wish I had been able to park Liverpool for those few weeks and concentrate solely on England. I could not do it.

My affection for the Liver Bird on my shirt outweighed my love for those three lions. I am not ashamed of that.

My dedication to Liverpool served me well at Anfield but not at international level.

I believe now I owed it to myself and the squad to put club interests on hold - although I never gave less than 100 per cent when picked.

It's not that I did not care when we went out of major tournaments, but the disappointment was not as deep as when Liverpool lost.

Ally that to generally negative results and performances and there were rarely good vibes around an England squad. That did not help.

We lived in a bubble inside the England hotel and seemed to be adversely influenced by circumstances which other countries dealt with better. When I look at those squads now, I believe England had good players but not good tourists.

You often hear it said how the players could not deal with pressure - for every player dreaming of returning home a hero like Gary Lineker in 1986 or Gazza in 1990, there were others fearing being the scapegoat like David Beckham in 1998.

Some players recognised the opportunity to propel their own career or get a new club on the back of the tournament. Others wilted at the prospect of being hammered when they got home.

I saw the media coverage work both ways. Players, or their agents, have friends who are journalists and are more than capable of shifting responsibility. This was the environment I was used to with England - that lingering sense there were plenty around you who knew how to look after themselves if it went wrong.

Members of staff were no different, doing their bit to ensure they had a sympathetic write-up. I remember finding out whether I was playing against Germany in 2010 from a journalist. I already knew before the England coaching staff informed me.

influenced The media coverage never influenced my performances, but I know plenty of players who worried. I have even more concern about the impact of social media now. It is more readily available for players than newspapers, many of which we never got to see at the team hotel. Those who choose to read critical comments can be affected. Mental toughness has never been so important.

There is another complaint - recycled with increasing frequency - suggesting England players struggle to deal with an issue that does not bother other nations.

Boredom

We hear it in the build-up to every competition. How can we prevent England players getting bored while away? You would imagine the other 31 countries are on an 18-30 holiday while the poor England players are stuck in boot camp. I liked what Gareth Southgate  said: "Only boring people get bored."

I understand some find it easier than others to be away from their family, but why is that so different for England players? Do German, Spanish or Brazilian footballers never miss their wives and kids, or get homesick? In their case, they can expect to be away longer. We were home after two weeks. I have often felt England's rugby players and cricketers must hear footballers' complaints and laugh given how long they spend on tour.

England players have been too insular, less capable of performing without home comforts.

We stayed in the most luxurious facilities, had a games room the size of a promenade arcade, DVDs, libraries with every football autobiography on the market and 22 team-mates all of similar age to gossip with.

Best of all during a World Cup, we had three games a day to watch on TV.

One of my lingering memories of being in South Africa in 2010 was watching group games with Fabio Capello, Stuart Pearce and Steven Gerrard. Looking back, it was odd no others joined us. I do not know what everyone else was doing. Here was a chance to watch different teams, potential future opponents, but only two players sat with the England manager.

Capello barely spoke English so we'd get some communication via the odd mumble and hand gesture. Nevertheless, we were interested in the games as much as all those at home who love the World Cup for the endless TV coverage.

It is even easier for the modern players to entertain themselves with mobile phones, tablets and Netflix. The England team that reached the semi-finals in 1990 had no internet or smart phone. It did not seem to bother them.

Perhaps more could have been done to encourage those of us who wanted to sample the cultural delights of the host nation - it is true our South Africa base was especially isolated.

I would have loved to see more of the countries I visited. There is a degree of protection and security making that difficult. But again, it seems the English complain about this more than other nationalities.

Excuse

Southgate must banish this excuse culture and ensure his players get more from the experience.

I have heard him repeat the same message to his squad, one he must be drilling into them before they board that flight.

"Enjoy it. Have fun."

This may not be the most gifted England squad heading to the World Cup, but there is no reason why it should not be the most enthusiastic.

I would love to see an England side with a smile on its face - on and off the pitch. It might ensure they finally put one on those of us watching. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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