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EXCLUSIVE: England struggling to deal with ‘weight of expectation’ – Danny Mills

In an exclusive interview, ex-England defender Danny Mills gave his thoughts on the Three Lions' Euro 2024 campaign so far.

England's Gareth Southgate

Former England defender Danny Mills says the Three Lions are struggling to deal with the “weight of expectation” after another poor performance at Euro 2024.

Gareth Southgate’s side held on for a 1-1 draw with Denmark that keeps them at the top of Group C, but left fans and pundits angered by their less-than-impressive display.

Many star performers, including Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice were off the pace in Frankfurt on Thursday.

England sat back once they had taken the lead and Denmark seized the initiative, equalised and were the better team for the remainder of the match.

Mills says a lot of pressure has been piled on the team following their final loss at Euro 2020, but he is not excusing the mistakes that were made against the Danes.

Speaking exclusively to 101 Great Goals on behalf of BetVictor, he said: “When Gareth came in, it took a lot of the pressure off the players to go and express themselves, but now it almost looks like the weight of expectation is weighing very, very heavily on some of those players.

“Players making poor decisions, giving the ball away unnecessarily at times all over the pitch, we got swamped in midfield.

“Jude Bellingham is an absolute superstar, but it’s almost like he wants to do everything in the game, he’s almost trying too hard because of that expectation to go out and perform and win games.

“So I think there’s a little bit of that that’s crept back in. I think the expectation is huge and maybe the players are starting to feel that.

“All the stick that the manager has had and the fact that players now know that if they don’t win this tournament, the manager is going to get bombarded and they are going to fall into that blanket and get bombarded as well. I think that’s very, very difficult.

“You saw last night, that sometimes players make poor decisions, rash decisions.

“That’s nothing to do with ability. That’s nothing to do with what the manager has said. That’s nothing to do with tactics. That’s just a mentality issue.”

England’s omissions

One player who came under fire was Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Liverpool defender has been used as a central midfielder by Southgate at Euro 2020 but has struggled to gel alongside Rice.

Crystal Palace’s Adam Wharton and Manchester United’s Kobbie Mainoo have barely had a sniff of the action while many argue Bellingham could do a job in a deeper role.

Mills agrees that Alexander-Arnold may have to be moved for the rest of the tournament but does have sympathy for the 25-year-old after people continuously called for him to be played through the middle.

He added: “It might have to be revised. It hasn’t worked as well as a lot of people thought.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it? A lot of journalists, a lot of media people and pundits wanted Trent in the midfield area for his passing ability.

“Not too many of them are saying now ‘Oh, we got it wrong.’ People said ‘Oh, I’m not sure Gareth will be brave enough to do it.’

“He’s done it and now Gareth’s going to get stick for getting the tactics wrong. It’s a no-win.

“It’s not necessarily just down to Trent. Trent needs people to run him behind to create those spaces. Everything was played in front of the Danish defence.

“Playing with your back to goal is incredibly difficult. I would struggle even now doing a charity game against people who have never played the game. It’s so foreign.

“Scanning is obviously the new word in football, looking over your shoulder. I didn’t have to do that as a full-back.

“If I scanned over my right shoulder, I had some fella sitting in the crowd to worry about shouting abuse at me.

“No one was going to take the ball off me. Everything was in front of me. So that’s not easy.”

Euro aspirations

If England are to win their first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup, a lot is going to have to change following the Denmark draw.

Alexander-Arnold’s position has already been highlighted, but there is also a collective problem on the pitch.

Mills admits things must improve, but has pinpointed the false expectations surrounding the squad as one of the biggest issues that must be reined in if England are to win the Euros this summer.

He said: “We have some very, very good attacking talent and, for some reason, we’re expected to go out and win every game 5-0.

“Nobody’s doing that in this tournament. The standard of the so-called lesser teams has got better and better. There’s still a lot of good players in those teams.

“There is this false expectation that England are just going to go out and steamroll every single team.

“People raise their game when they play against England because it’s England. They want to beat England. It’s always been the case.

“So that makes it difficult as well. But you have to take the positives.”

Picture of Mitch Fretton

Mitch Fretton

Mitch is a freelance sports journalist with experience working for LiveScore, GOAL and Colchester United. He has experience working from both his desk at home and in the press box at games covering the Champions League and international football.