Gareth Southgate says he overlooked a clutch of established names at top-six clubs for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria because he did not want the younger generation to believe there was “privileged access to certain players”.
The England manager’s most eye-catching call-ups were the young Chelsea duo Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori. It is the first time the latter has been included and his elevation comes after only four Premier League starts. Abraham, who has eight goals this season, won caps against Germany and Brazil in 2017.
But the omissions were equally significant and they were headlined by Kyle Walker, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard – each of whom started in the World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia in 2018. Eric Dier, a substitute in that game, has also missed out and so has Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Southgate made the point that telling players they are not needed for a particular get together is the worst part of his job but said no conversation would be as difficult as the one he had with Wayne Rooney, whose England career he effectively ended. That episode has steeled him.
“When you’re selecting a squad, the players need to see some sort of meritocracy when possible,” Southgate said. “Who am I going to leave out if I bring guys back in? Does it mean leaving out somebody who is scoring freely and playing exceptionally well just because they’re younger? I think that everyone within the squad would look and say: ‘OK, there’s privileged access to certain players.’ To put them [Alli or Oxlade-Chamberlain] means I’ve got to leave somebody out who is in form. So a Mason Mount or a James Maddison. Nothing has been as difficult as leaving Wayne [Rooney] out – because of what he’s done in the game and his seniority.”
It is questionable whether such a meritocracy existed during Southgate’s days as an England player but was there such intense competition for places? The new wave of young players, who also include Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Chilwell, Joe Gomez, Declan Rice, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi, have increased the pressure. Hudson-Odoi will be a part of the under-21s squad during the upcoming break, having only just returned from a long-term injury. Read More