NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is backing Nick Pope to put his England nightmare behind him at Newcastle United, while insisting he has no short-term interest in replacing Gareth Southgate.
The Magpies head coach Howe has been installed as the favorite to replace Southgate as international boss in light of England going winless in their last six games ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November.
The latest disappointment in that unwanted run was a 3-3 home draw with Germany, in which Magpies’ No. 1 Pope made a costly late error to ensure the visitors walked away with a valuable UEFA Nations League point.
And while Howe knows the summer signing will be back to his best for Newcastle, he also backs Southgate to bounce back.
“I have spoken with Nick. He’s in a good place,” said Howe, whose side take on Fulham at Craven Cottage today.
“He is aware of how special those games are for him and his career. Where he has come from, to experience those moments is brilliant. He has earned the right to get to the position he is at. I was very proud of him representing his country on behalf of England.
“It’s a very difficult position to play in. I remember playing in goal a few times as a 10-year-old and I made a couple of mistakes and that was me out — I didn’t want to do it anymore. You need to love goalkeeping and then you need to be able to deal with mistakes. It’s part of the job when you’re in that position.
“Nick is a very calm, level-headed guy — he’s incredibly focused. I’ve got no problem with him returning. I know he’ll carry on where he left off for us. It’s probably a shield that you build up through many years of playing in goal.”
While many pundits are tipping England to turn to Howe if things fail to go to plan for the national team in the Middle East this winter, the Newcastle head coach only has eyes for progress on Tyneside.
“Gareth has done an incredible job and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” said Howe.
“I have been lucky enough to go in and see him work and I have a lot of time for him and Steve Holland,” said Howe. “They have been amazing for England. You have to remember where England was before he took over and what he has done for the country.
“I never say never, never. But in the short term it is not on my radar at all. It is all Newcastle and trying to make this team better.
“I have always said I love the day-to-day coaching, love being with the players on the training ground — in international football you get that taken away for long periods. At this moment in my life that is not something I want to do.”
Meanwhile, Howe understands that the key to Newcastle’s success this season is keeping his key players fit.
And after an international break of injury scares, Howe is unexpectedly set to welcome back Callum Wilson, Elliot Anderson, Bruno Guimaraes and possibly Allan Saint-Maximin and Chris Wood to his first-team setup.
“I’m not sure there’s a magic formula, really,” said Howe on keeping players like last season’s top-scorer Wilson fit.
“Of course, with all our players, our main aim is to get as many people fit and available for as many games as we can.
“Callum is an important player so resting him and managing his minutes is not always the best thing for a player. Sometimes players need rhythm and they need to get used to playing 90 minutes consecutively to build their resilience.
“It’s a really delicate balance and sometimes it’s impossible to know what the correct answer is. Sometimes you just play the game, don’t think too much and then back the players’ resilience. Callum played a lot of games for me during busy schedules and did very well so there’s no special plans at the moment.”