Friday, June 21, 2024

Tom Heaton praises England set-up on return as a training goalkeeper

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Tom Heaton tasted England’s lowest low as part of the Euro 2016 set-up and is full of praise for the way Gareth Southgate has shifted the culture, having returned to the fold as a training goalkeeper.

Eyebrows were raised on Monday when the Football Association announced that the 38-year-old would be joining the national team in Germany as part of the training group.

Heaton won the last of his three caps in 2017 and spent last season as third-choice goalkeeper at Manchester United, but Southgate believes his experience and outlook will boost England.

The shot-stopper has worked under him on numerous occasions – including travelling to the 2019 Nations League finals – and has been impressed by the way he has taken things on after Euro 2016.

“I sort of predated Gareth, before he was England manager and then I was there for quite a bit of his sort of first few years, so I’ve seen him all the way through, really,” Heaton said.

“He’s just shifted the culture, really. I think he shifted the whole outlook, the whole feel from the country, really and even you guys (in the media).

“He sort of brought everyone in together, so that’s how it’s changed.

“I think what’s that given for the lads is a little bit freedom to go and perform.

“I think we’ve seen that over the last few years. We’ve gone close, there’s been some really good performances and there’s a real good feel to the England team at the minute.

“Of course there’s expectation because we’ve got a good side but you’ve got to embrace that and I think you can see that at the minute.

“We’ve got fantastic players, everyone’s hungry to be in the shirt and, of course, we’re going to try and make it successful.”

England arrive in Germany among the favourites for Euro 2024 glory given their recent tournament successes and star-filled squad.

Heaton is confident this team can lift the trophy in Berlin on July 14 and feels the mindset has changed from when he went to the Euros eight years ago.

That was the veteran’s only other major tournament experience and ended in a shock defeat to Iceland in the Euro 2016 round of 16.

“I actually spoke to a few of the lads this morning about that camp, (it) was actually really, really good until it wasn’t,” he said.

“Obviously you talk about results there, I think that’s what makes or breaks it.

“There was a good feeling going into 2016 but I think what the difference has been is we’ve now got evidence of good performances, good sort of finishes in big championships.

“So, there’s been sort of momentum building. There has been a shift in culture – the lads have embraced it.

“I just think we’re closer to being successful than then and there is some hard evidence to back it up, so there’s more belief that goes with that.

Heaton won the last of his three caps in 2017 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“So, yeah, I think there is differences. As ever in elite-level sport, margins are fine but I think we’re starting to get a lot closer to those margins.”

Heaton is full of praise for the goalkeeping pool of Jordan Pickford, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale, vowing to help the trio and England’s outfield players in any way he can in his role as training goalkeeper.

“It feels very special,” he said. “Gareth rang me a couple weeks ago, floated the idea and I jumped at the opportunity.

“To come and be a part of it, another major championship, is an honour and a privilege. I’m delighted to be here.”

Heaton grinned from ear to ear after England’s first training session in Germany.

He is out of contract at United this summer but has no intention of hanging up his gloves.

Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton in action
Heaton as no intention of hanging up his gloves any time soon (Martin Rickett/PA)

“No, definitely not,” Heaton said. “For me, it’s all about feel. I still feel bang at it, still feel good.

“I’ve had a couple of weeks holiday and not done very much so to come in today and get up to speed.

“But, if I’m honest, I enjoyed it. It was great to be back out there, but certainly no thoughts about that. While I still feel good, I’ll still be champing at the bit.”

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