Only when the television cameras were gone and any prying eyes were on the other side of the security screens did Gareth Southgate finally appear to show his hand on Thursday.
His plans for this World Cup have been a closely guarded secret, the precise make-up of his team for England’s opening Group G encounter against Tunisia something that has been widely debated but known only to his inner circle.
But when Southgate called his players together for what, Sportsmail understands, was a brief address, the players were given a strong indication of what he might have in mind for Monday’s contest in Volgograd.
Gareth Southgate finally appeared to show his hand for England’s World Cup opener
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson appears to have edged out Eric Dier in midfield
Ashley Young is set to start ahead of Danny Rose for England in Volgograd on Monday night
That, at least, was the conclusion some players reached after 10 bibs were handed to 10 outfield players for a training game against the other members of the squad.
Jesse Lingard claimed on Thursday afternoon to remain unaware of the starting XI. He also said he had no idea when the manager might tell the players the team.
But he did so having been among those seemingly selected in what many of them now suspect is the line-up against the north Africans.
For the majority it probably came as no great surprise. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling up front, Lingard and Dele Alli in the more advanced positions in midfield.
Not to mention a back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire with Kieran Trippier deployed to the right.
But here, seemingly, was confirmation that Jordan Henderson will get the nod ahead of Eric Dier in that midfield anchor role and, perhaps more intriguingly, Ashley Young will start ahead of Danny Rose out wide on the left.
England’s players go through their paces at their training base in Repino on Thursday
England don’t appear to be letting the pressure get to them ahead of the World Cup
Clearly, concerns remain around the fitness of Rose after a season interrupted by injury but it may well be that Southgate also wants someone of Young’s maturity in a relatively inexperienced defence.
The 32-year-old Manchester United full back is a member of a five-man leadership team and someone Southgate says is terrific with the junior members of the squad, the England manager repeatedly making the point that he needs multiple captains on the field at this tournament.
Young, older than Wayne Rooney. remember, but still in shape to secure his passage to Russia, sets an example Southgate wants others to follow.
Southgate also wants players who are comfortable in possession, and, as has become clear as the team has evolved under his stewardship, pace.
If this is the England side who bid to become only the sixth in 15 attempts to win their opening World Cup game, it has pace in abundance. Ambition and adventure too.
ENGLAND’S CHARLIE’S ANGELS OUT TO BE HEROES
England stars Eric Dier and Dele Alli adopted a Charlie’s Angels pose for the cameras at their Repino base on Thursday… let’s hope they are real action heroes against Tunisia on Monday
England stars Eric Dier and Dele Alli adopted a Charlie’s Angels pose for the cameras
Jesse Lingard considers pace to be among England’s strengths in Russia this summer
Asked what he considers to be England’s strengths in Russia, Lingard said: ‘I think it is pace.
‘I think for us it is just to play with that freedom and enjoyment but also to go out there to win while playing exciting football at the same time.
‘We are a team with youth. It’s a pacy team but we have got experience mixed in as well.’
Lingard is a good example of the change that has occurred under Southgate; a player not considered by previous managers but someone who was known to Southgate in his previous roles with the junior national teams.
One of the appeals is the fearlessness with which Lingard plays for United and England. ‘I think you have just got to embrace the moments,’ said Lingard.
‘You’ve got to enjoy your time on the field, no matter what game it is.’
He spoke of ‘playing in that space between the opposition’s defence and midfield’ and of his admiration for Andres Iniesta.
‘The manager has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and enjoy it,’ Lingard said. ‘So as a group of players that is what we are going to do.’
There is a quiet confidence about these England players, with some of them relaxed enough to have a crack on the four-lane bowling alley that is housed inside the FA media centre.
Man City defender John Stones puts pressure on as he tries to get the ball off his team-mates
Kieran Trippier wants England to provide their attacking colleagues with the right ammunition
Although Kane is yet to score a tournament goal and Sterling has gone almost three years without finding the net for the national team, they consider themselves a potent force at this World Cup.
Trippier says it is simply a case of providing attacking colleagues like Kane with the necessary ammunition.
‘On the training field we practise deliveries and crosses,’ he said. ‘And as long as you put the ball in the right areas, you know Harry will put them away. He’s in good form and for sure he will do well in this tournament.
‘In this team I see a lot of attacking players who score a lot of goals and have had great seasons for their clubs. Hopefully they can take that into the tournament.’