Gareth Southgate refused to focus on his contract situation as England manager after taking a huge step towards World Cup qualification, but took the time to praise Harry Kane – who would be delighted to see his manager stay long-term.
England beat Albania 5-0 on Friday night, with all the goals coming in the first half. Kane scored three of them with a perfect hat-trick that made him his country’s all-time leading competitive goalscorer. The other goals came from Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson.
Merely avoiding defeat away at San Marino on Monday will be enough for England to confirm their place at the 2022 World Cup.
The strides they took towards that objective at Wembley on Friday were convincing ones, particularly with the emphatic first-half performance.
Manager Southgate thought those opening 45 minutes produced some of England’s best play for a long time.
He told ITV: “The first half was fantastic, as well as we’ve played for a long time. It was hard to maintain that.
“We’re best when we have an edge. We didn’t produce what we should against Hungary but we had a game tonight that could put us on the verge of qualification for the World Cup.”
England are now in such a position thanks largely to the hat-trick scored by Kane. But Southgate thought his captain impressed in all aspects of his play and not just finishing.
He said: “I thought Harry gave a brilliant centre-forward’s performance – held the ball up, played other people in. His all-round game was excellent.”
The win followed reports that Southgate is set to sign a new contract to extend his tenure as England boss until 2024.
But the 51-year-old was not ready to comment on his future until the job of qualification is done.
He replied: “We need a point [to qualify] and it would be wrong for my attention to be anywhere else. It’s an irrelevance for me.
“I’m under contract, I’m very well backed and supported and my focus is just on getting qualification done.”
Kane backs Southgate to stay
Someone who would be happy to see Southgate sign up for the long term is Kane himself.
The striker was also asked about his manager’s future and he was more open about his own thoughts.
Kane said: “I know me and a lot of the lads love Gareth and we want him to stay as long as possible. That’s his decision and we’ll back him whatever he does.
“We need one more win on Monday and then we can enjoy a fantastic year.”
Elsewhere in his interview, Kane echoed Southgate’s thoughts about the first half performance and the steps taken towards Qatar 2022.
He said: “The first half was an incredible performance. The pressure was on and we needed a result. It’s a great way to get closer to qualifying.
“Whenever you put on an England shirt you want to do everyone proud. Maybe we had a point to prove and we came out on fire.
“Whenever I get chances I feel like I’m going to score. I could probably have had six on another night.”