A photograph of a scribbled team lineup, spotted in the hands of assistant coach Steve Holland, threatens to sour the unusually cordial World Cup relations between the England team and their traveling media pack.
Four years after the team leadership banned reporters for snooping on closed training sessions in Brazil, the latest prying took place in open training.
While counterparts had their lenses tracking the players before today’s game against Panama, the London Evening Standard’s Jeremy Selywn snapped a piece of paper showing players in formation.
Now the England camp is asking the media: Are you with us or against us?
“Try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world, because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament,” defender Kyle Walker said on Friday. “You guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that, it would be polite.”
Holland on Friday apologized to the squad at training in Repino.
“We had a bit of banter with him about and that was it,” Walker said. “We knocked it on the head at that.”
The revelation was the first indication the squad had that Raheem Sterling could be dropped after struggling to make an impression in the opening win against Tunisia on Monday last week and Marcus Rashford could lead the attack with captain Harry Kane.
However, Southgate was not planning to disclose the starting 11 until yesterday, when England was to fly to Nizhny Novgorod for the Panama game.
“Obviously, any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team, it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate told Talksport radio station. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not. Given that was just a squad list, it doesn’t make any difference to us really.”
In keeping with his relaxed persona, Southgate went on to say that the incident was “no drama.”
A former England defender, Southgate has tried to reduce the friction between reporters and players by giving more access to players — even after news conferences.
The squad and journalists have been competing at pub sports in Russia. That continued on Friday, with striker Jamie Vardy taking on a reporter at pool, even as the media defended the right to publish Holland’s handwritten notes.
“Let’s just be clear on one thing,” tweeted Matt Law, a soccer writer for the Daily Telegraph. “The pic of the England team was taken in an OPEN training session in which photographers and cameramen are invited to take pictures. You may not agree with it being published, but there was certainly no hiding in bushes.”
At the 2014 World Cup, some reporters did find vantage points to watch private training sessions, which irritated the then-England coaching staff, including Gary Neville.
The publication of the lineup at this tournament “undermines the relationship and trust with the team,” said Neville, who is working in Russia as a TV pundit.
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