Gareth Southgate to hold meeting with England players over taking the knee after fans boo gesture

Gareth Southgate will have a meeting with his players about supporters booing the taking of the knee, and ask them whether they want to send a public message.

The friendly against Austria in Middlesbrough was preceded by the loudest dissent towards the gesture yet, with many of the players looking bemused before expressing their disappointment afterwards. A growing problem is that the booing threatens to become a feature of every England game at Wembley, just as the team is supposed to be bringing the country together again.

Southgate already expressed his disapproval of the booing before the game, saying it felt like a criticism of the team’s black players, but added there will be a squad-wide discussion.

“What has happened tonight probably means I need to have another conversation with the players, first and foremost, because I need to see how they feel about it,” the England manager said on Wednesday. “That’s an important discussion for us to have. I know there was some concern in the past in March that we were losing some of the impact, so I think after what has happened tonight we need to consider whether we continue to do the same thing, whether we do something different and I’m sure the players will have a really good view on that.”

Southgate meanwhile refused to outright rule Jordan Henderson out of the first game against Croatia on Sunday week, but admitted that the timescale doesn’t look good. The Liverpool midfielder was supposed to take some part in the Austria friendly, having not played any football since February, but felt discomfort and didn’t want to take the risk.

“I don’t think it would be fair to rule him out of it, but I think it’s clear to everyone how much football he has missed. The timelines are getting more difficult with each training session he might miss and to not have those match minutes tonight is a blow towards that. But as I said [on Tuesday], I’m being very realistic about what’s possible here. It’s a decision we took because we have been able to take extra players and we feel he is such an important influence around the place and can add value to what we are doing, and if we can get him close to being able to contribute on the pitch that will be a real bonus as I see it at them moment.”

Southgate has previously spoken about how picking unfit players on the basis of their reputation had caused problems for England in the past, raising questions about the selections of Henderson and Harry Maguire. He admitted that being able to pick 26 players changed the dynamic, and that both have a deeper value in terms of their leadership.

“With the two lads, Hendo and Harry, as I said: I’ve picked up a squad that can cope without them. If we had 23, that might have been a different decision to make. We’ve got 26. So, rather than take maybe a couple of young players for the experience, for me it’s better to have two senior players who can add so much to the group, and if we can get them in a position to help on the field, then that’s only going to be beneficial for us.”

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