Gareth Southgate is desperate for England to reach number one in the world while he is still in charge of the Three Lions.
England have never been ranked number one in the world, but Southgate expects his side to tie their best-ever Fifa ranking of third after this round of international games.
That is not enough for Southgate, who wants the number one spot and told his England team they cannot afford to waste any games – such as Monday night’s European Championship qualifying dead rubber against Macedonia – if they are to achieve it.
World champions Argentina are currently ranked number one in the world, with Southgate hoping England, who have spent five consecutive years in the top five, can leapfrog Brazil into third place.
“Qualification’s done,” said Southgate. “With the games at the weekend, we might be ranked third in the world, but we’re two places off where we need to be so we can’t waste games.
“If we’re going to be a top team, then the level of performance has got to be spot on every time.”
Southgate’s contract as England manager expires in December next year and the expectation is he will leave the post if his team fall short at next summer’s Euros.
Asked if reaching the number one spot is a motivation for him, Southgate replied: “Yeah, because, ultimately, you achieve that through consistency and you’ve got to play well in the tournaments as well because the ranking points are higher in the tournaments.
“Also, it sets behaviours every day on the training pitch, off the training pitch. If you are going to be the top ranked team, there’s no room for sloppiness or casualness. That’s got to be our drive.”
Faced with the now customary question about his future and the fact this could be his last qualifying game in charge of England, Southgate said: “I haven’t thought about it really.”
Southgate has banned all talk of next summer in the build up to the North Macedonia game after admitting that he and his players got side-tracked in their preparations for the underwhelming victory over Malta.
Bowen joins Trippier in withdrawing from squad
Kieran Trippier and Jarrod Bowen became the latest players to pull out of his squad, but Southgate dismissed any suggestion England could take it easy on Monday night.
“I’ve thought about the game (against North Macedonia) and the need for a better performance than Friday, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on,” said Southgate. “I feel almost as if we’ve almost talked too much about the Euros already and I didn’t see our focus in the right place at the weekend. So it’s Macedonia, then it’s March, then it’s the summer. And we go from there.
“I think talk of the summer was a distraction on Friday in its own way. Look, in football management, frankly I think you should look no further than three or four games ahead anyway. But I think when you’ve got a tournament coming up, inevitably, as an international manager, you’re going to be judged on tournaments so everybody before that is pretty futile, really.”
When asked to clarify whether he meant that there had been too much talk internally or externally, Southgate replied: “Yeah, internally.”
Southgate admitted that Trippier had been in line to start at left-back against North Macedonia and insisted that he would now have no hesitation in handing Manchester City teenager Rico Lewis his senior debut in what has become the nation’s problem position.
“He (Trippier) probably would have (played left-back),” said Southgate. “Although we knew pretty early after the Malta game he was going to have to go. So we are going to have to come up with a creative solution.”
On 18-year-old Lewis, Southgate added: “He is an option. He’s a versatile player. I’m really pleased with how he’s trained, he’s settled really well. He’s very comfortable with the ball.
“He’s played there a few times. He’s played everywhere for City. Him and Cole (Palmer) are here because we believe in them and we wouldn’t hesitate to put him in.”
Lewis has predominantly played as a midfielder for City and on whether or not that will be his long-term position for his country, Southgate said: “Quite possibly. That’s where he sees himself at the moment. He’s very comfortable receiving the ball in those areas.
“It’s hard to say because City are quite unique in how they play. At junior level, he’s come through their academy at full-back, then this hybrid role since then.
“Sometimes with young players it’s great for their development to play different positions and in a couple of years maybe that will be a little bit clearer.”