Gareth Southgate’s right-hand man Steve Holland admits he was shocked at the lack of leadership during England’s Euro 2016 defeat by Iceland.
Holland has been Southgate’s most trusted lieutenant for the past four years, first with the under-21s and then when both men stepped up to the seniors following Sam Allardyce’s inglorious exit last year.
Throughout that time he has been on a part-time deal with the Football Association, spending most of his time on his day job at Chelsea, but he severed ties with the Blues at the end of their title-winning season and is now fully focused on the Three Lions.
Speaking for the first time as England’s assistant manager ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland, Holland emphasised the need for a greater fortitude and mental resilience in the squad, with last year’s shock 2-1 defeat in Nice the most obvious touchstone.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day but the first thing is to recognise is the performance in the Iceland game in the last tournament was not what everybody was expecting. We have to try to do better than that,” he said.
“You go one up and everything looks fine and everybody’s playing then suddenly bang! Bang! It is 1-2 and then you are looking on the pitch, maybe you were in the stadium or sitting like me on holiday watching it, looking round at the players thinking, ‘Bloody hell, they’ve gone, where are the leaders? Where is the leadership?’
“This is a pressure moment. Who is stepping to the fore? It looked to me like there was nobody.”
Holland’s harsh assessment should not come as a major surprise, echoing, as it does, Southgate’s own thoughts.
Since taking the top job the former Middlesbrough boss has axed Euro 2016 captain Wayne Rooney and encouraged every player to share the burden of responsibility – from their input in team meetings to taking on media duties once dominated by the skipper.
Last weekend’s trip to a Royal Marines training centre in Devon, where players and staff were put through their paces in a series of exercises designed for new recruits, was all part of the same process.
“There were various different exercises that weren’t physically challenging but did demand an opportunity for some to step forward and lead and organise others and take responsibility,” he said.
“They were out of their comfort zones, they didn’t feel good about what they were being asked to do, they were handling situations where there was pressure.”
As well as his coaching acumen, well established having served on the first-team coaching staff of five Chelsea bosses, Holland brings passion to his new role.
Unlike Southgate, he did not reach the top level as a player and retired early after barely making a dent on the professional game.
He could easily have stayed on at Stamford Bridge and had a bright future under Antonio Conte, but the former Derby trainee is driven by an optimistic vision of the national side.
“I had the eight best years of my life at Chelsea, incredible experiences that you can only get at so many clubs in the world, to win the Champions League and the Premier League,” he said.
“But I would not say it was a wrench. I’m 46, never seen England in a final; my eldest son is 18, and he’s never seen England in a semi-final.
“I’m English and when you get an opportunity to try and affect that, deliver something that would frankly make the nation go to a level that it has never been before, an England team that delivered success, that sort of opportunity is impossible to reject.”