Steve Holland takes DANNY MURPHY inside the England camp
‘The culture at Chelsea was relentless, but it did create success’: Can England create a winning mentality? Gareth Southgate’s legendary No 2 Steve Holland takes DANNY MURPHY inside the Three Lions’ camp
- Steve Holland has been Gareth Southgate’s No 2 since he took the England job
- The legendary coach will look to help lead the Three Lions to glory at the Euros
- Holland worked at Chelsea from 2009-2017 and says the culture was relentless
- The coahc worked under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.
Unlike Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, Gareth Southgate has never asked a star of the Golden Generation to sit alongside him at a tournament. The role of indispensable and trusted right-hand man is already taken.
‘In my view, Steve Holland is a legend,’ says the England manager about his closest confidant for more than seven years. ‘He’s the most experienced English coach in the country, right through from developing young players to winning the Champions League and Premier League with some of the best managers in the world.’
The level of praise may surprise some people, but not me. Steve was my first coach in professional football. He was talented, knowledgeable and communicative. As I interviewed him about the upcoming Euro 2020, I could tell those qualities remain, added to by eight years of experience at Chelsea and now as England assistant manager.
Gareth Southgate has always trusted Steve Holland as his No 2 since taking the England job
The only disappointment was hearing he no longer takes free-kicks in training. He used to regularly put them in the top corner but he says: ‘If I did that now, I’m afraid I’d pull a groin!’
The European Championship starts this week with England’s first game against Croatia at Wembley. Like the whole country, Steve has been waiting a year for this moment, ever since the original tournament was delayed because of Covid.
The squad looks a little different than it might have 12 months ago — with young players like Jude Bellingham emerging — and the preparations are more rushed than Russia three years ago, when England reached the World Cup semi-final.
Nonetheless Steve will enjoy having the best players in the country for a more prolonged period. ‘Normally they arrive on Sunday night, shattered. A couple of days recovery, then it’s the day before a game,’ he says.
‘We had four weeks to prepare for Russia and only had two players — Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold — late into camp because of the Champions League final. This time it’s a shorter period, two weeks and we’ve had 11 in European finals.
England’s group is different to 2018 with several youngsters having come through the ranks
‘It means we have the full squad together for barely over a week before the first game. Better than normal, but not as good as it was in Russia.’
Russia was a golden time for England. They went to the tournament unfancied but were only 22 minutes away from reaching the final.
Despite that, lessons were still learned to try to take the final couple of steps. Steve studied the World Cup winners in detail to see if any of their strategies could benefit England this summer.
‘I looked at France’s seven matches with a fine-tooth comb, their shape, selections, substitutions,’ he says. ‘It interested me that Antoine Griezmann started every game but didn’t play the full 90 minutes until the semi-final against Belgium. When I reflect on us and what Harry Kane did compared to that, there are lessons to be learned.
‘To get through seven matches in 27 days — and some may go the extra half-hour — is very physically demanding, particularly in heat.
‘So there are things we will maybe look on a little bit differently next time. The day you reflect positively on everything is the day you fail to progress.’
Kane looked tired in that semi-final, having played every minute of the knockout stages including two extra-time periods. As Southgate’s captain and talisman, it will be interesting to see how he is paced during the European Championship.
Southgate and Holland first worked together in 2013 with England Under 21s, Steve part-time and doubling up with his job at Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge, he worked as reserve-team manager, then assistant-manager for names such as Guus Hiddink, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
Harry Kane looked tired in the World Cup semi-final, it will be interesting to see how he is paced during the European Championship
When Southgate got the England senior gig, Steve committed full time and left Chelsea in 2017.
‘Gareth is a different leader to eight years ago. He’d say he’s more comfortable in certain areas now,’ says Holland. ‘When I walked into Chelsea for the first day from Crewe, it was a completely different world. No coaching course can prepare you. You can’t be the finished article when you start, it’s whether you have the attributes to evolve and become good. I’d like to think I did at Chelsea and Gareth is the same with England.
‘From the beginning, he’s wanted me to prepare training, decide what we do and how we do it and to control periodisation so we don’t make mistakes with the players physically.
‘Our working relationship has lasted eight years, which doesn’t happen often in football. It’s an indication we are very comfortable together. He oversees everything and is constantly communicating within the sessions.’
Every England game is magnified, with victories usually heralded as triumphs and defeats treated as disaster, even if the reality is you can play badly and win, or play well and lose.
With all that pressure, Steve recognises the way of communicating is key, especially when players have spent time in different club environments.
‘You have to be specific with the messaging,’ he says. ‘You need to be clear before a meeting what the end needs to look like. Don’t use a hundred words where 20 will do.
‘One thing Gareth does well is speaking to every player at some period. When you pick a team, you disappoint more players than you keep happy. At these Euros, 11 will start and 15 don’t. So while you don’t just select players for a tournament because they are nice guys, you need a group that understand their role. Otherwise it can derail the process.
‘When we beat Colombia on penalties at the World Cup, there is a picture of Phil Jones, Gary Cahill and Danny Rose, players who weren’t on the pitch, showing real emotion. That is a reflection of players who had a team mentality.’
England will have home advantage this summer, with all three group games at Wembley, plus a possible knockout game and the semi-final and final if they get there.
Holland committed to helping Southgate full-time when he got the England job in 2017
A PEDIGREE IN COACHING
The England assistant manager, 51, was born in Stockport and progressed through the Derby academy before turning to coaching after a career-ending injury at 21.
He spent 17 years at Crewe, gaining a folder full of coaching qualifications and becoming head coach and then manager. In August 2009, Holland took charge of Chelsea’s reserves and was then promoted to assistant manager under Andre Villas-Boas.
He remained assistant through the reigns of Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Antonio Conte. He also joined Gareth Southgate in the England Under-21 coaching team in a part-time role. Holland became England assistant under Southgate in 2016.
‘Our record is excellent at Wembley. It does represent a different challenge to Russia but one we have to handle,’ says Holland. ‘If we can’t handle the pressure of having more of our fans than the opposition, it’s unlikely we are going to win.
‘Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Russia will also have group games at home. Where our advantage would kick in is if we are lucky enough and good enough to get to the semi-final. But we have work to do before that.
‘In St Petersburg, we had a great facility in the woods in the middle of nowhere but were detached from the joy expressed in England.’
England are joint-favourites for the tournament with France. Much of the anticipation is down to the quality of players available.
About half the squad from Russia are back again. But for many this will be their first experience. Jude Bellingham is 17, Phil Foden 21, Bukayo Saka 19, Jadon Sancho 21, Reece James 21, Declan Rice and Mason Mount, 22. There is knowhow too. Jordan Pickford, Jordan Henderson, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Kane and Raheem Sterling all started the World Cup semi-final.
‘When we picked the squad for Russia, there was no real furore over who didn’t go,’ says Holland. ‘This was different. There were plenty of players people thought should go. It suggests a real strength in depth. My view is you’re only as good as your senior players. Then we’ve got this group of seven or eight really talented younger players going to their first major tournament. It is interesting to see how that evolves. You don’t want to lose competition for places. Players need hope that if they train well they’ll get a chance.
‘At Chelsea, Antonio Conte changed to a back three and brought in Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso from the cold. I had Cesc Fabregas, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic sitting behind me. Moses and Alonso did well and played the rest of the season.
‘It shows if you do what the coach wants, you get a chance. With England, all the players are big personalities at their own clubs. To make them feel important as one of a group when they are the main man at their club is a challenge.’
Henderson, Maguire, Conor Coady, Jack Grealish and Rice all captained their clubs last season. Youngsters like Foden and James already know what is required to win trophies.
Steve is also important in that dynamic, having been through a tough school at Chelsea between 2009 and 2017.
‘The top players Didier Drogba, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, were completely driven every day,’ he says ‘They had talent but also made the maximum out of it. As they became experienced, they’d push the rest of the group.
‘If we “only” drew away to Manchester United, the bus was like a morgue on the way back. The next day, nobody is speaking in the corridor. The first half an hour of training, players are kicking lumps out of each other. Everybody is snarling, nobody is smiling.
He was at Chelsea from 2009 to 2017 and worked under managers like Jose Mourinho
Holland had success but admitted the environment at the Blues was relentless and stressful
‘It is a strange culture and environment to explain, you just couldn’t accept not winning. If losses came, you could hear the helicopter landing in the training ground with the boss [Roman Abramovich].
‘It was relentless and stressful but it did create success.’
One of my favourite memories of Steve was returning home on the ferry from Northern Ireland where we had taken part in the Milk Cup, an international youth tournament. He called me over and presented me with the Golden Boot for being the tournament’s top scorer.
Steve was back at the Milk Cup during Euro 96 and showed video clips of Terry Venables’ side to inspire his own players. The big question is whether England can reach their first final since 1966. Steve isn’t shying away from the ambition while also acknowledging our nation’s poor historic record.
Our only two semi-finals between the Sixties and 2018 came at Italia 90 and Euro 96. Either side of Italia 90, we failed to win a game at Euro 88 or Euro 92. Before Euro 96 we failed to qualify for the World Cup.
‘We’re an amazing football nation, Danny. You come from Chester and, if they played Wrexham, you’d get 10,000 wanting to go in non-League. Nowhere else on the planet has that depth,’ says Steve.
‘We’ve had great players and managers but never had the success that reflects our standing.
MOUNT’S BIG SECRET? HE IS LIKE TWO PLAYERS IN ONE
England gem Mason Mount, who set up Chelsea’s winner in last weekend’s Champions League final, is someone Steve Holland has been aware of for years.
‘When I was reserve-team coach at Chelsea, I’d ask Neil Bath at the academy if I could go and help him one night a week,’ he recalls. ‘I saw Mason at the age of 12 and 13. He was small and relatively weak at that stage, but had an incredible brain.
‘Sometimes when you don’t have physical attributes when you’re young, it challenges your brain because you can’t be successful just by being faster and stronger.
‘It works the mind, how do I get more touches, how do I anticipate things because I can’t win duels. That is the process Mason went through. His body has developed and he’s now competing equally physically but is benefiting from having his brain challenged early.
‘It is unusual to have a player who is perceptive offensively and clever defensively. Normally you get one or the other. He’s one of the few who gives you both, which is why every coach he’s worked with likes him so much.’
Mason Mount is a star Holland has been aware of for years having worked with him at Chelsea
‘If England reached the quarter-finals this time, it would be the best back-to-back tournaments in more than 50 years. But we wouldn’t see it as success because we put pressure on ourselves to do better than that, to win.
‘I personally think our objective is to get to a point where we are consistently close. Then we will have the right to believe it’s our time. That is a personal feeling, not necessarily one from the FA, and it’s certainly not one to take the pressure off what we want to achieve this summer.
‘Occasionally, you get a winner out of the sky, Leicester in 2016, Greece at Euro 2004. But success is usually a consequence of having gone close before. France lifted the World Cup after reaching the final of Euro 2016. We won the Champions League at Chelsea in 2012 after semi-finals and a final.’
Perhaps reaching the semi-final three years ago will help England this time.
‘I remember the first time I went to the Nou Camp, I looked up at a beautiful clear sky, 99,000 inside the stadium, aware that Messi, Xavi and Iniesta can blow away any team in 20 minutes. But when Chelsea returned, Lampard, Terry and Drogba knew what to expect. Normally success is built on experience, familiarity and players needing to take the final step.’
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