Gary Neville was key in England deciding not to give their players a week off after the domestic season, Ray Lewington has revealed.
Work towards the European Championship in France is in full flow, with the 23-man squad to be finalised on Tuesday on the back of hard-fought 2-1 wins over Turkey and Australia.
Those friendlies were held at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and the Stadium of Light in Sunderland as England held home matches on the road for the first time since Wembley reopened nine years ago.
It is a change in tack before the third major tournament of Roy Hodgson’s reign, having reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2012 only to return home from the World Cup two years later without so much as a win.
The alteration in preparation is borne out of the desire to make the tournament build-up feel like an extension of the season, Lewington explains, with players going home for a couple of days, coming back to a different location and looking forward to the next match.
“We’ve changed the way we have gone about it,” England assistant coach Lewington told the Professional Footballers Association’s ‘4 The Player’ magazine.
“When we took over for the Euros in 2012 we didn’t have too much time to think about it.
“We went in there with the usual generalisations and carried that through to the World Cup.
“It was the usual – the season finishes, the players go and have a week with their families then they join up and go to camps, but we tried to turn it upside down.
“This is where Gary Neville with his views as a player came in. We thought about whether players should have a week off after the season finishes.
“Logically it sounds right because they’ve had a long, hard season. But the sport science people were asking ‘what would you do with a week off apart from giving them a rest?’
“A lot of the players – where they’re not under our supervision – can be given the freedom to go off with their families and do anything they want. So we have changed it around a little bit.”
England looking to establish identity
The changes saw those players not involved in the FA Cup or Europa League finals convene at St George’s Park three days after the final game of the Premier League season.
Moving them around is aimed at avoiding “boredom” that players find one of the hardest aspects of major tournaments, with the squad getting time off between Thursday’s final friendly against Portugal and flying to France on Monday.
The coaching team will have whittled the squad down to 23 by the Wembley encounter, with Fabian Delph’s groin injury meaning just two more names have to be cut by Tuesday’s UEFA deadline.
“I think we’re capable of playing and doing really well,” Lewington said. “It’s difficult in a tournament because you don’t know who you’re going to play.
“If we come across Germany early that is going to be a very difficult game.
“But we’ve shown we’re capable of beating Germany and we know we’re capable of beating anyone else.
“We really hope we start getting a pattern to us and a look to us where people start saying ‘that’s the way England play’.
“We’ve managed to do that because we’ve now got a lot of pace and running power in the team and that hasn’t always been in the England team.
“The age of the team has reduced drastically since we took over as it has evolved in the four years since we have been here.
“We have a youthful, athletic look about us and we want to continue that. And we feel if we continue with that success will come, but football is hard to predict.
“We want to go all the way and we have the ingredients to give us a realistic chance of having a really good tournament.”
Team over individuals for England
England certainly boast one of the best and varied attacking groups heading to France, although whether to take teenager Marcus Rashford is a big question.
The 18-year-old netted 138 seconds into a dream debut against Australia on Friday, which came just 92 days after making his first-team debut for Manchester United.
“We’re looking for players who fit into the way we want to play – so that’s not always the media’s favourite,” Lewington said of England’s squad selection.
“They might be pushing for a player that doesn’t actually fit in with us. We can’t deny they’re playing well but when we have so little time to get players in we haven’t always got time to change them.
“We need players who fit our profiles so they can come in and do that job. We’re definitely looking at players who suit the way we want to play.”
:: Lewington was talking to the PFA’s 4 The Player magazine, which is available to view online at www.thepfa.com later this month.