Gareth Southgate: Without major trophies, England have no 'big players'
Gareth Southgate believes it is a fallacy to say England have "big players" considering the lack of major trophies among them and proven ability at the top.
World Cup qualification may have been secured but questions remain over the state of the national team, having floundered at recent major tournaments and flattered to deceive on numerous occasions.
Limping to Russia with a last-gasp 1-0 win against Slovenia on Thursday only exacerbated matters, leading enthusiasm to wane further ahead of Sunday's Group F dead rubber against Lithuania.
Big names like Harry Kane and Dele Alli are set to start the final World Cup qualifier in Vilnius, yet Southgate was keen to point out that profile does necessarily turn them into "big players."
The exciting duo have not won a major medal between them and the only members of this England squad to have tasted Champions League glory are Ryan Bertrand, Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge.
Three Lions boss Southgate said: "Well, are they big players until they win? We're talking about big players because of transfer fees or because they are playing in the Champions League.
"When we are in semifinals, finals, winning trophies, then I think I think we're big players. Until that point, for me, we have it all to prove.
"I am the same as coach, so I don't disassociate myself from that. But we can't consider ourselves big players.
"Big players are [Gerard] Pique, [Sergio] Ramos, [Sergio] Busquets, [Toni] Kroos, [Sami] Khedira, [Manuel] Neuer -- I could go on. That's what big players are.
"We create a bubble in our country around the league because of the money, because of the profile of it. We have it to prove. No problem, these guys are hungry to prove it."
England certainly have the appetite for success within this callow squad.
Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland will get the chance in Lithuania and Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks is pushing for his senior debut, while Leicester's uncapped centre-back Harry Maguire looks set to come in as Southgate dabbles with a three-man defence.
"I think we can connect the ball better," he said of the decision to play three at the back. "It gives us more stability in transition.
"I think the passing angles. I think we've played our best possession football when we've played that way in the games up to now.
"In the qualification games we wanted to get an extra attacking player on the field, but, in the end, I'm not certain we've created more chances in doing that, so I think this is an opportunity."
The trip to Lithuania is England's last competitive match before the World Cup -- a tournament it had been feared Alli could miss the beginning of following his ill-judged middle-finger gesture.
FIFA instead showed leniency and only banned him for Thursday's qualifier against Slovenia, when his presence was missed as Kane's late goal saw England scrape a 1-0 victory.
Southgate, though, does not necessarily believe creativity is Alli's main attribute -- as some have suggested.
The England boss added: "Dele is an interesting player because if you analyse his game closely, he's a scorer of goals and he's not necessarily the sort of link player Adam (Lallana) is.
"Dele's biggest strengths are arriving in the box, timing his runs into the box, finishing and scoring goals, the moments he smells when to turn over, when to press.
"If he can add consistency in his touch and creativity of pass to that, then he'll be a better player than he already is -- and that's a high level now."