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18th Jun 2018

Rob Green explains exactly what England players do before a World Cup match

England's former goalkeeper opens up on exactly what it feels like to prepare for a World Cup finals

Simon Clancy

Ahead of England’s World Cup kick-off, Rob Green tells JOE what the England players will be thinking

It’s the night before football’s Christmas. You’ve watched fans from other countries ‘unwrap’ their presents as the World Cup gets under way. Now it’s your turn.

As an England fan, you’re just hours away from the start of your tournament. Nerves are fraught. You can’t focus at work. You’re too busy worrying about line-ups and formations, dreaming of scenarios where we score two, three, four.

“The Spanish, the Argentinians and the Brazilians drew,” you tell anyone who’ll listen.

“The French were unconvincing. And the Germans lost,” you say confidently.

But inside the stomach’s churning. And you’re only going to be watching on television! So, what’s it like for the players before a World Cup kick-off?

Robert Green knows. He started the 2010 World Cup for Fabio Capello’s men in South Africa in the unconvincing 1-1 draw in Rustenburg. So, are the players as nervous as the fans in those final moments and what do they do to keep calm and carry on?

“You know what, you try and shut everything out,” the current Huddersfield number two says. “Be as normal as possible, relax your mind and trust in the processes you have in place for every game regardless of who it’s for and at what level. The guys in the England camp in Russia now will be very calm.

“Yeah, there’ll be a few nerves and probably one or two more than usual because this is the World Cup. I mean, I’m watching Brazil and Switzerland and I know some of the guys playing and I know what they’ll have been going through before kick-off. But I also know they’re professionals and you just learn to shut out the noise.

“You harness the excitement and channel that as best you can.”

That may seem clinical to the ordinary fan, but Green insists that sticking to routine is the best way.

“Look, Gareth’s players are ready,” he says. “If they’re not ready now, then you’d hope they put their hands up to say they’re worried and it’ll be dealt with. But they’ll all know their jobs, and as a player you work through certain scenarios in your head, thinking about how you’ll react if different things happen in front of you. There comes a time where you have to say, ‘what more can I do?’”

Rest is critical in the final hours before kick-off. So, how will the players have slept last night in Repino ahead of the opener against Tunisia? Surprisingly, Green insists Southgate’s men will have been more like logs than nervous wrecks.

“I always slept well before games. The night before that opener against the USA in 2010 I had the usual sleep. No tossing and turning, no worries. It was pretty unremarkable. The biggest issue will be when they wake up and remember that it’s an evening kick-off,” says the man who made 12 appearances for England.

“Not because it’s unusual in any way because these boys are always playing games at night, either in the Premier League or the Champions League, but more in terms of quelling the boredom. Training will have slowed down and you’re doing less physically so there’s more time to kill.

“The boys will take a walk, there’ll be a couple of meetings, but the main thing will be no screens. Players tend to steer clear of phones and iPads and things because they affect your concentration a little bit. Saying that, I know that Andrea Pirlo sat playing Playstation a couple of hours before winning the Champions League and he could play some, so it’s very much whatever works for you.

“But certainly, most of the English lads will taper off the screen use. I’d drop into the rooms of some of the other guys and have a cup of tea and just chill out. But you have to fight that boredom.”

Green insists that one of the ways to quell said boredom is to continue the routine until the very last moment. So that means that the card games, darts, ten pin bowling and table tennis sessions that Gareth Southgate’s men have undertaken at their base will continue apace.

“You’d think that the players would be getting into their own head space and being a bit quieter than usual but that’s not the case. You have to stay the same or you allow any fear to seep in. Those games of table tennis and things are perfect for that,” he says. “That’s what the boys will be doing today.”

Not a single member of Southgate’s England squad has won a World Cup game. Does Green think that will affect their mind-set ahead of kick-off tonight? “I don’t think so,” he says. “Look at someone like Jordan Henderson, his last game was the Champions League Final, so his mentality will be spot on because that’s just a notch below a game like this.

“All Gareth’s players are so experienced at the highest level, even the young lads. And Hendo will be one of those guys going around to speak to the guys like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Marcus Rashford and making sure they’re OK. I used to do the same thing although you do it in a relaxing way. You don’t want anyone to turn round and say, ‘No I feel terrible!’”

This evening as you make your way to the pub before kick-off or settle down in front of the TV at home, the tension will be palpable. And there’s that moment when you see the overhead shots of the England team bus nearing the stadium that makes it all feel very real. It’s bad enough watching from thousands of miles away, so what’s it like being on that bus as it closes in on the stadium?

“You know what, it’s a strange thing. In Rustenburg there were far more neutral fans than you’d expect, but that’s what a World Cup’s like,” he says.

“Oddly, it’s not the same as a big away game in the Premier League or a final at Wembley and that’ll really resonate with the boys. They’ll almost be like ‘where are the fans?’ But regardless, there’s definitely a sense that this is it, that this is the pinnacle. There’s a level of expectation that you don’t get elsewhere.

“It’s something you’ve spent your entire career building up to and you just want to go out and play the game you know you can play and try your best to keep the emotions under control. It’s probably much tougher watching at home than it is when you’re playing.”