London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate has condemned the “unforgivable” racist abuse aimed at the three England players who missed penalties in Sunday’s Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were the victims of sickening social media taunts in the aftermath of the 3-2 penalty shoot-out loss at Wembley.
While some people identifying as England fans used racial slurs in blaming the trio for the defeat, other offensive messages were accompanied by “Forza Italia” hashtags.
England’s players have made a strong stand against racism at the tournament, taking a knee before all their games including Sunday’s final.
“For some of them to be abused is unforgivable,” England boss Southgate said at a press conference on Monday.
“Some of it has come from abroad, we have been told this, but some of it is from this country.
“We have been a beacon of light to bring people together and the national team stands for everybody. We felt the energy and positivity from the fans and I’m incredibly proud of that.”
Having infamously missed a crucial penalty in England’s Euro 96 semi-final shoot-out defeat against Germany, Southgate knows what it is like to endure taunts and jibes after such an agonising loss.
Many past and present England players, including David Beckham and Raheem Sterling, have been vilified by Three Lions fans after major tournament failures.
Southgate said ensuring his stars were supported after the penalty heartbreak was “top of his thinking”.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re there, and aligned with their club, and making sure that we look after those boys, absolutely,” he said.
Southgate’s decision to send on Rashford and Sancho in the final moments of extra-time, specifically so they could take penalties, has drawn criticism after the gamble backfired.
But he has mostly earned huge praise on and off the pitch since taking over as England boss in 2016.
– ‘Stomach has been ripped out’-
After years of under-achievement for England, Southgate guided the team to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia before taking them to the brink of their first major title in 55 years at Euros 2020.
English Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham said during the tournament that he wanted to hand Southgate a new contract keeping him in the job until after the next European Championship in 2024.
The 50-year-old’s current deal is due to expire after next year’s World Cup in Qatar and while he wants a crack at winning the 2022 World Cup, he is not ready to commit any further than that.
“I don’t think now is an appropriate time to think about anything,” he said.
“We have got to qualify for Qatar but I need some time to go away and watch the game and reflect on the whole tournament. I need a rest.”
For now, Southgate will lick his wounds after the most painful moment of his managerial career.
“It’s not ultimately where we wanted to get to and when you’re so close, that’s even more painful,” he said. “Of course it feels like my stomach has been ripped out this morning.”
Once he comes to terms with the final failure, Southgate expects to feel far more positive about the future of a vibrant young team
“We had seven in the starting team from Russia and that experience has been critical through the big matches in this tournament,” he said.
“So to add the young players in at the time we did, the cycle and the expectation of the group will know what’s needed to get to the level to win. That should be a process that stands us in good stead.”