I had no idea whether I was going to get into the squad. I’d had a lot of injuries that season, and in April I was selected for an England B game and Glenn Hoddle said: “I want to take you but you’ve not played enough games.” I didn’t think I was going. Then he announced a 30-man squad with me in it, and we went to a training camp at La Manga. Every session you’re trying to decipher what it means for your place in the squad.
Eventually, those of us who made the 22 were told at the hotel, all at the same time. It quickly came out that Paul Gascoigne had been pretty unhappy at missing out, and that’s what people remember. We’d been together for a while and all of a sudden you’re losing some of your colleagues, and as pleased as you are that you’re not one of them, watching those guys head out the door, seeing their sadness, that wasn’t good for the group.
I think what Gareth has done is much better. There’s people on standby but everybody knows where they stand. And I like his squad: I think England have always picked players for tournaments because of their reputation. This is the first time I’ve seen a squad genuinely picked on merit.
In France we were in a hotel in the countryside. The facilities were fantastic and we had some things to do – a pool table, table tennis – but there’s only so much of that you can play. There are going to be periods of boredom. When you’ve got nothing to do you pick up a newspaper, and that’s when the media scrutiny hits you, and if there’s negative press the squad picks up on it pretty quickly. Gareth has been to tournaments, he’ll know that and he’ll put something in place to stop the boredom kicking in. I would have liked to go out on some trips, to get the players in a group together, away from the hotel. But then if results are bad everyone would have complained that the players were off doing that rather than concentrating on football.
We had a strong team in Japan, built on a strong defence. The key was that we had played together for a long time. I knew Sol Campbell’s game, Sol knew Ashley Cole’s game, I knew Gary Neville’s game, or Danny Mills’s game [Neville missed the tournament through injury]. When you’ve got those relationships, it allows you to perform with confidence, and I think that’s what this England team is missing.
There were a lot of injuries in the buildup – David Beckham was coming back from a metatarsal, Kieron Dyer and Steven Gerrard were both affected by injury and replacements were flying in and out. I think if a player’s carrying an injury going into a tournament, they’re never going to get fit enough to come into the team and make a difference. Especially if it’s your star man, the attention it creates, especially if that player doesn’t play to his best, it has a negative impact on the squad. You want to get rid of all that razzmatazz – a player needs to have played at least a couple of games at the end of the season, and the manager needs to be strong enough to make that call.
He doesn’t have to only pick players who are in form, though. You need people with international experience, who the manager trusts, but if you’ve got a few players on the fringes of the squad who were in form at the end of the season, they can make a difference.
I have good memories of that World Cup. I think it was the most well-organised tournament I went to. There were some big distances to travel but the facilities were fantastic, the pitches were first class and I think every detail was taken care of perfectly. My family came out, and nobody had a murmur of complaint. Plus we beat Argentina. We were a long way from home but at a World Cup that doesn’t make a difference. You’re in your bubble. You could be on the moon and it wouldn’t make a difference.