Gareth Southgate sees 'shift' in England supporters' attitude toward team
England manager Gareth Southgate has said his players will fly to Russia on Tuesday having started to build a bridge between the squad and a sceptical nation.
Southgate's team, who face Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in Group G, head to the World Cup having failed to live up to expectations at recent tournaments, with the 1966 world champions last reaching the quarterfinal stage at Germany 2006.
The Euro 2016 humiliation at the hands of Iceland, when Roy Hodgson's team was eliminated by the tournament minnows at the second round stage in France, further dented the damaged relationship between the supporters and players.
Southgate has quietly overseen a changing of the guard with England, however, by promoting young players and overlooking the likes of Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere and he believes that England will travel to Russia having already pressed the reset button with the fans.
"I've talked before about there being a disconnect between the supporters and the team," Southgate said. "I've felt that there are different ways to bridge that -- the most important is the way you play, and your performances and your results. We know everything else comes on the back of that.
"We ask people to pay a lot of money to watch football. In the end, we want to entertain where we possibly can.
"But I think there was a shift [in public opinion] in November when we brought in some of the younger players.
"There was a clear shift in the identity of the team, we went to a back three and people have been warmed by that, not only the young players in this squad, but the young players in the system, the success with the junior teams.
"The Under-17's World Cup win, in particular, came at a moment where the profile of our young players was really high.
"We know we are not the finished article, in fact we're a long way from that, but I think people see signs of progress and enjoy watching us and the manner in which we try to play."
Despite the improving relations with the supporters and more optimistic mood within the country, few associated with England expect the team to win the World Cup on July 15.
But Southgate insists that his players are primarily determined to entertain and ensure that England at least enjoys a feel-good factor during the tournament.
"We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed those matches," he said. "I know what those tournament experiences can be like and we desperately want to bring that.
"But our focus as a team has to be on the bits we can control. Constantly trying to improve, playing in a style that we've used in the last year or so and that people have warmed to.
"Of course, if we do all of those things and we play with a smile on our face and we enjoy our football, enjoy being in a tournament, then I think we will get results."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_