Gareth Southgate has highlighted the challenge to mental health posed by isolation and loss of routine during the coronavirus pandemic as he made it plain that football was no longer uppermost in his thoughts.

The England manager ought to have been gearing up for Wembley friendlies against Italy and Denmark and counting down to Euro 2020 but the former have been cancelled and the latter postponed until next summer.

Southgate has written an open letter to England fans in which he urged everyone to follow the government guidelines and said that the heroes of the coming months would not be footballers, rather the doctors and nurses who risk their lives caring for others. In a typically well-judged piece, he talked about both the “physical and emotional” impact of the crisis.

“For everyone in our country, the primary focus of the present – and the coming months – is undoubtedly to look after our families, support our communities and work together to come through what is clearly the most extreme test that we’ve faced collectively in decades,” Southgate said.

“In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many. So, please continue to follow the guidelines for hygiene and also the sensible precautions put in place to control the spread of the virus in order to protect those most vulnerable to its impact. That responsibility lies with us all.

“We are also conscious of the economic uncertainty affecting so many businesses and, consequently, virtually every family. Coupled with the unique challenges of self-isolation, the loss of routine to normal working and social life, we face real challenges to our mental wellbeing. Our children may feel anxious with uncertainty. It’s not normal for any of us and it’s going to challenge us all.

“We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre stage. The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centres to look after our friends and families. They won’t receive the individual acclaim but we all know their importance is beyond anything we do on the pitch.”

The Euros have been moved from 12 June-12 July of this year to 11 June-11
July of next, with the intention being to stage the tournament as planned across 12 cities, including London, Glasgow and Dublin.

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“When we play again as an England team, it will be at a time when not only our country but the rest of the world as well is on the road to recovery,” Southgate said. “Hopefully we will be closer to each other than ever and ready for the beautiful distraction that football can bring.

“To play in a European Championship next summer will still be possible for all of our squad and so we shouldn’t spend another moment thinking about the postponement of the competition. I feel sure that, when that moment comes, I will never have been prouder to be the leader.”

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