GARETH SOUTHGATE has given his England side a huge reality check, claiming: We’ve got no big players.
Fans threw paper planes on to the Wembley pitch at Thursday’s 1-0 win over Slovenia to alleviate the boredom.
And Southgate admits his men are miles away from the world’s best.
The Three Lions are hailed as the biggest stars around but boss Southgate said: “When we are in semi-finals, finals, winning trophies, then we are big players.
“Until that point we’ve got it all to prove — and that includes me as coach.
“We’re talking about them being big because of transfer fees or because they are playing in the Champions League — but we cannot consider ourselves big players.
“Big players are Pique, Ramos, Busquets, Neuer, Kroos, Khedira…
“We could go on. That is what big players are.
“We create a bubble in our country around the league because of the money, the profile.
“We have it to prove. No problem, these guys are hungry to do that.”
Southgate has a job to convince supporters to tune in for tonight’s clash away to Lithuania.
England have already secured their place at the World Cup so there is nothing to play for — and the win against Slovenia hardly set pulses racing.
But the manager is ready to make changes and unleash new faces to try to capture the imagination ahead of Russia.
He is set to give first caps to Tottenham’s Harry Winks and Leicester defender Harry Maguire — and will use a three-man defence on the LFF Stadium’s plastic pitch.
Southgate said: “If you are playing for England there is always something to lose — and for the guys who play there is an enormous amount to gain.
“But I go back to it — we don’t have too many players with 50, 60, 70 caps.
“They’re learning about international football. The more support they can get the better.”
Southgate says part of the problem is the fear factor among players.
That was evident during the defeat to Iceland at the Euros before Southgate’s reign started.
And there were glimpses of it last week against Slovenia until Harry Kane popped up with an injury-time winner.
Southgate said: “It’s probably our biggest possible challenge. I don’t know if it is just us because I have not played in another shirt and I have not dealt with and worked with another country’s media.
“I am sure there’s pressure with every country. For us, the disappointments over decades add to that.
“Because we won in 1966, expectation is so much higher so we will always be compared with that moment of success 50 years ago.
“Then, we were not a league where 30 per cent of the players were English. And we were at home.
“Most teams that host tend to have good tournaments if they are at any decent level.”
The Three Lions chief admits his players need the support of fans to have the best chance of fulfilling their potential.
He said: “We accept the performances dictate the reaction.
“We’re picking this up because of Iceland as much as anything, and 30 years of not succeeding to the level the country believes it should.
“But if it’s 30 years then our expectations are not in tune with reality.
“If people want to have a go at me, no problem.
“But these lads are going to need support. It’s not going to help them if the negativity is as high as it can be.”
He does, though, want his men to be more “streetwise” in Russia next year.
He said: “It’s understanding the right thing to do at the right time.
“That applies to us, definitely. It’s one of the areas we have to be better at.”