Gareth Southgate stamped his authority on the England squad the day he dropped Wayne Rooney in Ljubljana, according to defender Danny Rose.
Southgate was leading his country for only the second time, and on an interim basis, when he decided to axe the Three Lions’ record goalscorer for a World Cup qualifier in Slovenia in October 2016 – a move which proved he was “not to be messed with”.
Rooney had captained the team in a 2-0 Wembley win over Malta just three days earlier and expected to do so all the way through to this summer’s tournament in Russia.
But Southgate had already started to realise the squad’s biggest star did not fit his plan for a young, hungry and athletic team. England drew the match 0-0, with Rooney a second-half substitute, but the die was cast and he retired from international duty the following summer with 53 goals from 119 caps.
“I definitely didn’t expect the manager to drop him against Slovenia and as soon as we all saw that we knew that that gaffer was not somebody to be messed around with,” said Rose ahead of Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia.
“He’s dropped arguably one of the best England players ever and the top goalscorer as well. It was a huge shock for all of us, especially when Wayne announced that he was retiring.”
It set the tone for a series of hard calls Southgate has made since taking charge, with Craig Shakespeare and Sammy Lee eased off the coaching staff, Joe Hart left behind in England despite starting nine out of 10 qualifiers and former regulars like Chris Smalling and Jack Wilshere overlooked.
Southgate is among the more personable figures in English football and has encouraged a closer relationship with both fans and media – but worries about him being too nice to take the tough decisions have been emphatically put to bed.
“His first camp, he didn’t employ certain people,” said Rose.
“You know he has this nice side to him but at the same time he has a side that you don’t want to cross. It literally is buy into what he and his coaching staff believe or he won’t choose you.
“You either want to be here or you don’t. If you are here you have to get on board with everything, and I think that’s what everybody’s done.”
Rose was part of the starting XI beaten by Iceland at Euro 2016 – a seismic event which he appears to lay at the door of then manager Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff.
“Some of the preparation for the Euros I would have liked to do differently, especially for the Iceland game,” he said.
“What we were doing in training was completely different to how Iceland played in the game,” he added, seemingly holding back from saying more.
“I can say now everything we’ve done in training here is exactly what we’ve seen in the videos from Tunisia. There can be no excuses, no arguments. The gaffer has given us all the right tools to be ready for Monday.”
Reflecting on the occasionally bumpy road which has taken England to Russia – the campaign started with Sam Allardyce in charge before a newspaper sting saw him leave the role after just 67 days – Rose added: “Looking back from the Euros, it’s mad that we’ve had two managers since then.
“Now we have a new captain as well. I don’t know, it’s pretty surreal when you think about it. We’ve all had to move on and who better to captain the side now than Harry Kane?”