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Not bothered? Ignoring the noise? No… Here’s how England’s players REALLY deal with criticism and all the eyes on them – and the WAGs – at the Euros

Don’t be fooled into thinking that England players are oblivious to the way they are portrayed in Blighty.

We’ve heard members of Gareth Southgate’s squad claim in recent days that they are unconcerned by what appears to be an unrelenting tirade of negativity stemming from two very ordinary performances at Euro 2024 so far – almost as if they are dismissing it as unimportant.

Gary Lineker’s scathing criticism of England’s performance against Denmark last Thursday, in which he described the performance as ‘s***’, has spread like wildfire through the team hotel.

The former England striker’s follow-up comments on Monday – when he accused the English press of fueling his comments – brought wry smiles around the camp. But ultimately the reporting is irrelevant – at least that’s what the players and staff would have you believe.

‘It’s just noise’ was the recurring theme from Southgate and his vice-captain Kyle Walker ahead of the draw in Denmark.

Gareth Southgate (right) claims England are not listening to outside noise, despite fierce criticism of his players, including Phil Foden (left)

Gareth Southgate (right) claims England are not listening to outside noise, despite fierce criticism of his players, including Phil Foden (left)

The players claim that they are not affected by the criticism, but that is not entirely true

The players claim that they are not affected by the criticism, but that is not entirely true

The players claim that they are not affected by the criticism, but that is not entirely true

Gary Lineker was one of England's most outspoken critics, branding their performance against Denmark '***'

Gary Lineker was one of England's most outspoken critics, branding their performance against Denmark '***'

Gary Lineker was one of England’s most outspoken critics, branding their performance against Denmark ‘***’

If you win convincingly here in Cologne on Tuesday, everything will be forgotten. You can already imagine the positive headlines.

When that happens, you can be sure the players will respond to that praise by saying, “We’re one bad game away from being criticized, we won’t pay attention to it.” But they care. Trust me, they care.

Certain players have vowed not to use social media during the tournament so that they are not exposed to negativity that could disrupt their focus on the task at hand. But their innate desire to know how they are publicly perceived remains. It grows until they burst.

While some will eventually turn to their phones, others have contacted their representatives to gauge the reaction to their on-field performances – or their respective media appearances – so that they are not directly exposed to any criticism.

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The obsession isn’t limited to the players either. Wives and girlfriends are all looking for position at competitions so they can be captured by paparazzi.

An England player’s relative has been described as a ‘dragon’ by an onlooker here for publicity.

Another member of the WAG contingent even contacted Mail Sport to ask if we could use another photo of her as she didn’t like the one published on our website. They see it. They feel it. They respond to it.

The England players catch up with their families after matches, with Harry Kane pictured embracing his wife Kate

The England players catch up with their families after matches, with Harry Kane pictured embracing his wife Kate

The England players catch up with their families after matches, with Harry Kane pictured embracing his wife Kate

Kyle Walker was also seen with his wife Annie Kilner (red top) and their children

Kyle Walker was also seen with his wife Annie Kilner (red top) and their children

Kyle Walker was also seen with his wife Annie Kilner (red top) and their children

Jordan Pickford's wife, Megan Davison (pictured) also cheered on the team from the stands

Jordan Pickford's wife, Megan Davison (pictured) also cheered on the team from the stands

Jordan Pickford’s wife, Megan Davison (pictured) also cheered on the team from the stands

Of course there is nothing wrong with that. First of all, the players are human beings. It is normal for them to be interested in what the world says about them, whether it is good or bad.

The need to stay informed of the opinions of others becomes even greater during a tournament.

It is inevitable in a camp where time for yourself is in abundance, especially at the English base in Weimar, which is very picturesque but largely cut off from civilization.

“You spend a lot of free time in your room,” Declan Rice explained. ‘It’s more the mental side than the physical side that I struggle with, but I’ve definitely gotten better at that as my career has progressed. Now I’m in a place where I’m trying to get along as well as each other.”

In addition to the training, treatment and massages, players have a large part of the day to twiddle their thumbs. Those thumbs inevitably reach for their phones.

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Interviews that in the past would only air on TV are now being cut and posted to social media to add an extra layer of publicity where players can stay informed.

The reach of major tournament coverage is now expanding globally, with footballers fully aware of the importance of protecting their own personal brands. It is important to emphasize that this does not mean that the English players are not focused on the task at hand. They certainly are. But combining that focus with an eye on how they are publicly perceived is something that comes with being a modern player.

Declan Rice admitted he struggles more mentally than physically between matches

Declan Rice admitted he struggles more mentally than physically between matches

Declan Rice admitted he struggles more mentally than physically between matches

The explosion of social media and its importance as a tool for shaping narratives means players have virtually no choice but to be exposed to it.

The fact that players pay their own social media experts thousands of dollars to keep their public personas relevant illustrates how seriously they view it.

“It’s constant, 24-hour coverage these days,” said the agent of one player in the England squad. Long gone are the days of incidents such as the infamous dentist chair debacle in England before Euro 96 was plastered all over the national newspapers. No social media back then, of course.

Each story is now dissected and continually refreshed with new revelations before losing its impact, often within a day or two.

The circus that surrounds England during major tournaments is not a new concept. But the way coverage is consumed has certainly changed.

Newspapers are not necessarily an important point of reference for England players or those charged with shaping their public image. But MailOnline is a very influential platform for modern players. That gravitas is not just limited to the sports pages.

And if it means the England players can use it as fuel to improve on the pitch, then great.

Jose Mourinho perfected the art of developing a siege mentality. An ‘us against the world’ approach that didn’t necessarily do much for player-media relations, but worked wonders for his teams over the years.

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Steve Holland, the England assistant coach, witnessed first-hand how Mourinho manipulated media criticism to inflame his team.

Invariably it is newspaper journalists who are in the line of fire, a concept continued yesterday as Lineker tried to distance himself from his ‘s***’ joke.

Steve Holland (right) watched Jose Mourinho (left) create a siege mentality at Chelsea

Steve Holland (right) watched Jose Mourinho (left) create a siege mentality at Chelsea

Steve Holland (right) watched Jose Mourinho (left) create a siege mentality at Chelsea

A similar mentality could now be created within the England camp after their disappointing start to Euro 2024

A similar mentality could now be created within the England camp after their disappointing start to Euro 2024

A similar mentality could now be created within the England camp after their disappointing start to Euro 2024

“I’ve made headlines again, haven’t I!” Lineker observed on the podcast The Rest Is Football, in conversation with Alan Shearer.

‘Journalists are what journalists are. They can be a bit tricky at these things, trying to deceive our footballers.

‘We have of course been critical of England’s performance, as has almost every journalist. But you know what happens, it’s happened to you and it’s happened to me over the years.

‘You sit there as a player and it’s your turn to face the press and at one point a journalist says, “So and so has criticized you” and you know they haven’t heard it.

‘It happened to me in 1986 with Mick (Channon). He did a little research and said, ‘Oh, the Lineker boy isn’t running around’ and all that.

‘Then it happened to Jimmy Greaves from Italia 90, who said: ‘He’s struggling, he looks like he’s never been the same since he recovered from hepatitis two years earlier.’

“So journalists will use that quote and say so and so said this. Lineker said England is s*** blah blah blah.’

But if it wasn’t Lineker, it would be someone else. It’s part of life in the tournament bubble.

That has always been the case. Players have always been interested in how they are perceived. And they always will.

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