BACK when I was play­ing foot­ball, I was nev­er a part of any senior inter­na­tion­al squads.

I always knew the inter­na­tion­al breaks would be a time when we could get some extra work in at Saints or an oppor­tu­ni­ty to have a break.

There were a num­ber of the guys over the years who would go off to rep­re­sent their coun­tries and it was always great to fol­low that.

As team­mates and friends, you would be keen on see­ing how they got on and you would want them to come back with­out any injuries or issues.

How­ev­er, I took a lot of pride in rep­re­sent­ing my coun­try at school­boy lev­el. It was immense.

I was play­ing as a strik­er back then, wear­ing the num­ber nine on my shirt, and lead­ing the line for my coun­try. It was a fan­tas­tic expe­ri­ence.

It was some­thing I was very proud to be doing. Get­ting the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play at the old Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um twice and win­ning both games was fan­tas­tic.

I remem­ber scor­ing in the Berlin Olympic Sta­di­um, the sta­di­um where Jesse Owens won his famous Olympic medals.

What an expe­ri­ence that was play­ing against the old West Ger­many. They are won­der­ful mem­o­ries.

I would have liked to have repli­cat­ed that in my pro­fes­sion­al career but there were some very good play­ers around at that lev­el and in the posi­tion that I played in.

I don’t think that was ever going to come to fruition.

It is always a huge talk­ing point when the inter­na­tion­al breaks come around and when the squads are announced. There are play­ers that should be in there that aren’t and vice-ver­sa.

There is always that debate around the nation­al team work­ing towards a major tour­na­ment. We are hope­ful­ly build­ing towards win­ning one now.

The next com­pet­i­tive com­pe­ti­tion that comes up in the Sum­mer is going to be a big one for Gareth South­gate, the squad, and us as a coun­try.

We have been build­ing up for this for some time now. We have come close in the past and the Lioness­es are also show­ing the way with the suc­cess they have had.

Let’s hope the men can repli­cate that. I can relate to how impor­tant it is to have play­ers rep­re­sent­ing their coun­try with­in a club squad.

Espe­cial­ly for Southampton’s young play­ers because they go away and will have that expe­ri­ence of what it is like to play inter­na­tion­al foot­ball.

To come back and share that with young play­ers and for young play­ers to be in and around that and to learn from those play­ers is bril­liant.

I wit­nessed that when I first joined the club at 16 as an appren­tice on a full-time basis.

I was work­ing and train­ing day in and day out with so many sea­soned inter­na­tion­als who had played a huge amount of games at that lev­el.

Your learn­ing expe­ri­ence just rock­ets when you are train­ing with peo­ple like that. It takes it to a whole new lev­el.

From the last game to when Saints next play against Mid­dles­brough, it is an unusu­al­ly long peri­od.

I don’t ever remem­ber it being as intense as this sea­son has been for the cur­rent squad. Clear­ly, there will be an ele­ment of work in there.

We have had peri­ods of the sea­son already for the cur­rent squad where it’s almost been play, recov­er, pre­pare, and then play again.

There is very lit­tle time for recov­ery from injuries at times.

It will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Rus­sell Mar­tin and the play­ers that are stay­ing behind to maybe get a lit­tle bit of addi­tion­al rest, some extra work on the grass, and maybe do some things dif­fer­ent­ly from what they pre­vi­ous­ly worked on, with a focus on the upcom­ing games.

Every sin­gle game is going to be cru­cial. It is about prepar­ing your mind and body for essen­tial­ly five weeks of intense foot­ball at the end of the sea­son.

Every­one knows the reward should we reach that sec­ond auto­mat­ic spot. If not, they then need to men­tal­ly pre­pare them­selves for the play­offs.