Southgate queries Wenger’s WC qualifying plans


England boss Gareth Southgate has questioned Arsene Wenger’s proposal for a single tournament qualifying window, adding that it risks players enduring 12 months without international football.

In his role as FIFA’s Chief of Global Development, former Arsenal manager Wenger is considering a range of reforms to the match calendar with the central aim of staging a World Cup every two years.

The 71-year-old is keen to reduce the amount of international travel players have to undertake and has suggested one qualifying window in October before a major tournament every summer, alternating between a World Cup or continental championship.

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Speaking on Monday ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier against Hungary at Wembley, Southgate admitted he was not fully aware of the latest plans but cast doubt over the logic of a solitary qualifying period which would reduce the number of opportunities throughout the year when international managers can work with their players.

“There’s another part of that: what if a player was injured in the October? He doesn’t play international football for a year,” he said at a news conference.

“I’m not quite sure where everything is. I saw some initial proposals. They seem to be doing the rounds and I’m not quite sure exactly what’s on the table now. It seems to change every time I speak to [chief executive] Mark Bullingham at the FA [Football Association], there’s been another presentation and another set of proposals and it is hard to keep up with, really.

“All I would say is everybody needs to be there in the discussion — club football, international football. There can be tweaks to the calendar that would help everybody.

“If there are slightly fewer windows but you get the players together for a slightly longer period of time, that might help the clubs and the international teams. But if there is only one per year, I don’t really understand that as a concept from FIFA when international football is such important part of what they do.

“And as I said at the start, if you are a player and you miss that one month or however long it is proposed to be, what, you don’t have an international career at all that year? That doesn’t really seem to make much sense to me.”

England are top of Group I and set to make wholesale changes from the line-up that easily beat Andorra 5-0 on Saturday.

With regular centre-back Harry Maguire unavailable, Tyrone Mings could play some part against Hungary and Southgate said the Aston Villa defender is more acclimatised to the pressures of international football after admitting self-doubt prior to Euro 2020 caused his mental health to “plummet.”

“In this instance, I know the phrase ‘mental health’ was used, but I think this was a bit of performance anxiety if you like,” Southgate said of Mings, who had 10 caps prior to starting England’s first two group games against Croatia and Scotland.

“I’ve spoken with Tyrone about it, I’ve had chats with him into the lead-in to the tournament. There’s always that doubt in your mind as a player, if you’ve not been in that situation before and that level of game, until you’ve done it you don’t necessarily know you can cope.

“And then when you go in and do as well as Tyrone did, that gives you tremendous confidence moving forward because he dealt with two really high-profile and difficult matches when he started.

“We have Ian Mitchell with us who’s our team psychologist but also there is the medical team and others and I think part of our job with coaches is to be there for the players if they have any issues or problems in any aspect of their life. The door is always open for whatever they might want to come and speak about.”

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