Gareth Southgate has hailed the NHS “heroes” tackling the coronavirus spread and insisted he will “never have been prouder” to lead England into next summer’s European Championship.
England were due to convene at St George’s Park this weekend ahead of friendlies against Denmark and Italy before Covid-19 hit the country.
English domestic football is now suspended until at least April 30 and Euro 2020 postponed by 12 months.
In an open letter to supporters, Southgate sought to shift the focus away from sport and on to the men and women dealing with the virus across the country during these difficult times.
“We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer, but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre stage,” he wrote.
“The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centres to look after our friends and families. They won’t receive the individual acclaim, but we all know their importance is beyond anything we do on the pitch.
“When we play again as an England team, it will be at a time when not only our country but the rest of the world as well is on the road to recovery. Hopefully we will be closer to each other than ever, and ready for the beautiful distraction that football can bring.
“To play in a European Championship next summer will still be possible for all of our squad and so we shouldn’t spend another moment thinking about the postponement of the competition.
“I feel sure that, when that moment comes, I will never have been prouder to be the leader.”
Southgate was typically thoughtful in highlighting the mental and physical challenges that lie ahead, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring on Thursday that the UK can “turn the tide” on Covid-19 within 12 weeks.
“For everyone in our country, the primary focus of the present – and the coming months – is undoubtedly to look after our families, support our communities and work together to come through what is clearly the most extreme test that we’ve faced collectively in decades,” Southgate continued.
“On behalf of all the team and staff, I would like to take this opportunity to send our sympathies to those who have lost loved ones already. Our thoughts are with you and with those who sadly will suffer similarly in the coming period.
“In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many.
“So, please continue to follow the guidelines for hygiene and also the sensible precautions put in place to control the spread of the virus in order to protect those most vulnerable to its impact.
“That responsibility lies with us all. We are also conscious of the economic uncertainty affecting so many businesses and, consequently, virtually every family.
“Coupled with the unique challenges of self-isolation, the loss of routine to normal working and social life, we face real challenges to our mental wellbeing. Our children may feel anxious with uncertainty. It’s not normal for any of us and it’s going to challenge us all.
“Look out for each other. Please don’t suffer alone, and remember that our great country has come through these enormous challenges before – and, together, we will do so again.”
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