Gareth Southgate tells England to play with style to excite Wembley fans

• Caretaker manager wants his players to be brave against Malta
• Southgate promises to start Wayne Rooney, most likely in midfield

Gareth Southgate has called upon his England players to be brave and excite a sold-out Wembley crowd in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Malta, as he promised to start Wayne Rooney, most likely in midfield, despite the captain’s recent difficulties at Manchester United.

Southgate spoke with great emotion on the eve of his first match as the manager of his country – he is in caretaker charge for the next four games, after the departure of Sam Allardyce – and he made it clear that he wanted a performance of vim and vigour, as much as a result, against the anticipated Group F whipping boys.

“I think the players are getting an understanding of my beliefs in terms of how I want an England team to play,” Southgate said. “One of the most important message for me to get across is that I want them to be brave and excite the supporters. Any England team that goes out, I want to play with style. Winning is the ultimate aim, but that will be a consequence of the performance and our work every day.”

Southgate won 57 caps over eight years as an England player, having made his debut against Portugal in 1995 and he said that he would have been more nervous before that game. “I didn’t have enough belief in myself, perhaps,” he said. “Now, it’s my job is to give these guys the freedom to go and play. I’ve been through everything in my career, so I’m less bothered about what happens in the end. I am looking at what we can achieve. When I was a centre-back, I was worried about what might happen if I made a mistake. So I’m more concerned about what my players are thinking. I’ve got tremendous faith in the quality of the players.”

Southgate spoke positively and he wants his players to cast the shackles off. He said that he would never “crucify” a player for trying something and it not coming off and it was obvious that expression would be a watchword for him.

“When I played with England, we had a couple of managers who I felt, whether it was expressed or not, allowed us to be as good as we might be,” Southgate said, with a nod towards Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle. “A couple, you sensed, were more worried about you making mistakes.

“Sometimes, that can be simple language used, but it puts doubt in the players’ minds. These guys have huge talent and huge potential, and I want them to go and fulfil that. There’s enough surrounding any game that puts doubt in your mind. We have to focus on what they do every day to transfer it out on to the field.”

Rooney has been among the substitutes at United for the club’s last three matches and has said that his performance in his last Premier League start – in the 3-1 loss at Watford – was not up to standard. But Southgate has looked at the balance of his lineup, including factors such as experience, and decided that Rooney has to play. “What has stood out for me this week are his observations on the game,” Southgate said. “He’s someone who clearly studies the game very closely. His leadership and maturity have really impressed me. I couldn’t be happier with his approach to things.”

Southgate’s last appearance at Wembley was as an England player in the infamous 1-0 loss to Germany in 2000 – after which Kevin Keegan resigned as the manager – and, before that, he had been on the losing Aston Villa team in the FA Cup final against Chelsea. He added, with a smile, that he had also attended the last concert at the old Wembley, which was given by Bon Jovi. “I played in the last Cup final, the last international and I went to the last concert – I know which was the most enjoyable,” said Southgate, who has released Phil Jagielka back to Everton for treatment on a thigh injury. “I felt for Kevin that night against Germany. The game wasn’t a memorable one, for sure. It’s painful to lose any game at Wembley, but doubly so against Germany.”