Boss Gareth Southgate has challenged England to “raise the bar for the next decades” and lose the “arrogance” shown in the past as they prepare for their landmark clash with Montenegro.
England play their 1,000th senior men’s international on Thursday, when a Wembley win over the Montenegrins would book a spot at Euro 2020 ahead of their final Group A qualifier in Kosovo on Sunday.
The Three Lions have just the 1966 World Cup as a major honour so far, and Southgate is eager to put that right.
“We’ve got to now raise the bar for the next decades to make sure they are more successful than the previous ones,” he said.
“We can’t have that arrogance that maybe we’ve had over the years – that we have a right to be in those latter stages. As a team and as a group of staff, we have to earn it.
“I suppose at the moment the win in the World Cup is the outlier whereas, in actual fact, historically, we looked at it as the benchmark.
“We are a small island. Even in rugby and cricket, we’ve had a brilliant run.
“The rugby team – huge credit to them – and they’ve only managed to win (the World Cup) once and, with respect, there are fewer countries that are capable of winning. So, it’s hard to win and that’s got to be our aim.”
Southgate has been in the job since September 2016 but insisted he was not daunted taking the role, and the prospect of following in the footsteps of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson.
“I didn’t think about that part so much. I felt that, in more recent times, the job had been viewed as this poisoned chalice,” he said.
“But then you start to think about what those people achieved, and you have to, as a leader, think about the vision of what’s possible and how that would feel if we managed to get the country really behind the team.
“You couldn’t be prouder (of playing), I thought, until you lead. And then you realise there’s an even smaller group of people who have had that opportunity and that is an immense privilege.”
Southgate also won 57 caps, playing at Euro 96, Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 1998.
He played with some of the country’s best players but, when asked, was coy about who would get into his best XI.
“These are the debates that you don’t want to get involved in. I’ve played with some of the greats of the last 25 years,” he said.
“If you looked at (David) Beckham, (Paul) Scholes, (Steven) Gerrard, (Frank) Lampard, (Wayne) Rooney, Gazza (Paul Gascoigne), it was hard enough to get four into a midfield that time, without going through the other generations.
“For all of them, it meant so much. When you’re in the dressing room with them, you knew what it meant to all of them to play for England.”