Southgate transformed England, says Defoe
Jermain Defoe and Gareth Southgate (Getty Images)
Cape Town - Jermain Defoe believes that head coach Gareth Southgate has gone the extra mile into transforming the national team culture.
Making his international debut in 2004, Defoe's England career spans over twelve years.
The now 35-year-old Bournemouth forward played when England were stocked with star players in their squad.
David Beckham, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Sol Campbell, Frank Lampard and John Terry, were all part of England’s golden generation.
Despite the quality of players in the squad, The Three Lions failed to impress on every international stage during this era.
“When I first came into the squad, there were cliques,” Defoe tells Sky Sports website.
“I would just sit with my friends. Not for any particular reason, that is just how it was. There were the Manchester United boys and the Chelsea boys.
“They were competing at club level and when they came away with England they could not get that bond that the guys have got now.”
Defoe’s debut for England came against Sweden which was Southgate’s last appearance as player for the national team.
Years later, Defoe would be called up to the national team under Southgate’s tutelage, where he rubbed shoulders with Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, John Stones and Jesse Lingard.
These players were all team-mates at under-21 national level and Defoe believes that it has helped in Southgate’s cause.
“Gareth saw all of it and that's why it is so good that he is the manager," says Defoe.
“He is the perfect fit because he knows a lot of players from the Under-21s too. There is a different vibe now.
“It is just banter all the time. It is a group of boys just messing about, but in a good way because there is no pressure on them. It is a completely different atmosphere.”
Defoe continued: “Before we played Scotland and France last summer, we went to the marines for two or three days. That would never have happened back in the day. It just would not have happened.
“Do you think you are going to tell David James or Sol Campbell to camp out in a forest?
“We did not have our phones. I did things that I never thought I would do. There were times when I felt a little bit scared doing it, but you have to because your team-mates are pushing you on and it's all about building that trust.
“There was no direct relevance to football but at the end of the day it was about taking the players out of their comfort zone.
“When it comes to the tournament, there might be a game that you need to win, and you go down to 10 men," Defoe added.
“You are out of your comfort zone then too and you need to be able to keep calm and deal with it.
“Gareth has done so much stuff to get the boys close it's amazing. It's clever and you can see the spirit. The boys look really relaxed and that is so important.”
England have qualified for the last 16 of the Soccer World Cup in Russia after impressing in their two opening fixtures against Tunisia and Panama respectively.
The Three Lions have a match against Belgium in their final Group G clash on Thursday, which will determine who gets top spot.
Kick-off is at 20:00 (SA time).