England v Nigeria: Gareth Southgate praises Jesse Lingard and backs Raheem Sterling over gun tattoo


England manager Gareth Southgate faced the media this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Nigeria at Wembley.

Southgate, set to lead the country he represented 57 times as a player into his first tournament as manager, was joined in the press conference by Jesse Lingard.

Confirming the Manchester United winger would start tomorrow, Southgate denied claims Lingard and Dele Alli could not play together in the same side, praising the former’s progression into a key player for his club.

“I don’t see it as a straight contest between any individual, absolutely they could play together,” Southgate said.

“Jesse is fantastic at recognising space and working away from the ball to provide a great link between midfield and attack.

“He’s had a super season this year. There’s been a question mark over whether he can convert what we see from his finishing in training into matches but this year he’s done that, so it’s a good moment for him.”

The main focus of questions put to Southgate was Raheem Sterling, the subject of a row over a gun tattoo spotted on his leg this week.

While some claim it insensitive, Sterling responded by noting the tattoo’s significance as a tribute to his father, who was shot dead when the Manchester City man was just two years old.

After the FA confirmed yesterday no action would be taken, Southgate backed his players’ rights to express themselves.

He said: “[Sterling] knows he’s got our support and understands how some people perceived the tattoo, but any tattoo is like any work of art, it’s an individual meaning and the intent is all with the person.

“Raheem’s a pretty strong character and is focused on his football. The personal story of a lot of our players is remarkable.

“People often highlight the issues and faults of all of the squad, but for so many of them it’s incredible they’ve got to the point they have. Raheem, in particular, embodies that. Nothing is given to you in life, you have to fight all the way.”

The match against Nigeria tomorrow is England’s penultimate before heading to Russia, with a clash against Costa Rica in Leeds on Thursday.

They then face an 11-day wait before kicking off their 2018 World Cup campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd.

And Southgate kept his cards close to his chest with regards his approach for the warm-up games.

“I think we know what we want to see in each area of the field and we’re clear on what we think.

“I’ve explained what we’re using these two matches for and I haven’t given them the team for tomorrow, but we have a very clear plan.”

Southgate confirmed that Phil Jones will miss the Nigeria game after returning home to be with his wife, who is expecting a child within the next few days.

And with English coaches in the limelight in recent days, Southgate was delighted to see former England teammates Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard given their first managerial opportunities, taking the reins Rangers and Derby County respectively.

“They’re really good characters and it’s great to see two lads who have a lot to offer the game stay in the game,” he said of the two former midfielders, who won a combined 230 England caps.

“There’s an easier route to go but they haven’t taken it. They could both have a more comfortable life but maybe not as fulfilling.

“We want English coaches and in future when the England manager job is available more high quality candidates. Guys who have played have an obvious advantage in terms of what they can pass on.”

You can listen to live coverage of England v Nigeria on talkSPORT from 4pm tomorrow, with kick-off at 5:15pm.



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