Gareth Southgate has described England Women manager Mark Sampson as “an excellent character” in the wake of allegations of bullying and discrimination against him.
Last week it emerged that 102-cap international Eni Aluko made several such complaints against Sampson in 2016 but the 34-year-old Welshman was cleared by two investigations – the first an internal Football Association review and the second an independent inquiry, commissioned by the FA but led by barrister Katharine Newton.
Speaking publicly about the matter for the first time this week, Aluko made a further allegation against Sampson, claiming he told the Chelsea and England striker to make sure her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus to a game at Wembley in 2014, while another Lionesses international, Lianne Sanderson, described a culture of “favouritism” in the camp.
Asked for his views at a squad announcement on Thursday, Three Lions boss Southgate said: “I have read the independent report. You speak as you find and Mark, in my view, is an excellent character, so I have no hesitation in saying that.
“I spoke to him yesterday on a human level, really, to see how him and his family are, because of course they have to go through all of this and that will have a big impact for them.
“I think clearly it’s a really sensitive topic and a serious one, hence the independent report, and I understand all of the speculation around it.
“I don’t think I can really add anything further to that without being present or being involved in any events so I think really the report and comments that have been made stand as they are.”
While Southgate was keen not to wade into specifics, he outlined the importance of strong values at all levels in the national set-up.
“It is very important that the culture is right and that all players feel that,” he said.
“There is no question that we take that very seriously. I have spoken before about the importance of the culture in the senior team because that sets (the example). We want all players to feel they belong here so that they can perform their best when they are with us and that we are inclusive.
“All my experiences with England have been that throughout the age groups and across the male and female game. I can’t really go beyond I have witnessed myself. As an organisation, what is being spoken about will be taken seriously for certain.”
The FA has declined to add to last week’s statement that set out its support for Sampson and included a link to the detailed summary of Newton’s investigation that was sent to Aluko in March.
But it is understood that the governing body believes the matter has been properly investigated, Sampson has twice been cleared, he has the current squad’s backing and his reputation is now being unfairly tarnished.
In her letter to Aluko, Newton wrote: “I consider that you genuinely believe you have been treated in this manner, however I do not consider there is sufficient evidence to support that belief or to draw an inference of discrimination.
“I consider that Mark Sampson has non-discriminatory explanations for his conduct, which I accept.
“There are certain areas where certain matters could have been handled better and the communication improved and I have indicated what those are.”
In last week’s FA statement, Sampson said he “appreciated” the fact that Newton’s reported flagged up improvements he could make to his “general communication style” and it is something he is working on.
Aluko, who has not played for England since receiving her 102nd cap last year, chose not to speak to Newton but did take part in a “culture review” the FA instigated following her initial complaint.
She also accepted an £80,000 settlement which the FA said it made “to avoid disruption to the squad’s preparations” for Euro 2017, where England reached the semi-finals.