If your immediate thought on seeing Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad was to incredulously turn to Twitter/WhatsApp/actual real-life friends and bemoan the inclusion of Harry Maguire then you really have no idea how international football works, and particularly international football just two months before a major tournament.
Maguire has started 13 of 16 England internationals since he made a belated appearance at Euro 2020; there was literally zero chance of him not being included in the last set of games before the World Cup, regardless of his standing at Manchester United. Zero chance.
“We have picked on the basis of form and capability over a long period,” said Gareth Southgate and that is entirely how international squads should be picked. Players should not be thrown out or embraced after six games of football and particularly not stalwarts of a very successful side. England, that is, not Manchester United.
International managers should not be making wholesale changes every few weeks. Jordan Pickford remained the England goalkeeper through poor Everton form because he always played excellently for England. Maguire will be afforded the same courtesy and that is absolutely appropriate; Southgate will judge him in training alongside the other England centre-halves.
There may be a question to answer if Maguire is still not playing Premier League football in November, but the fragility of Raphael Varane means there is every chance that the Englishman will have been restored to Erik ten Hag’s back line long before then.
Southgate addressed the issue of the little-used Maguire, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell and Kalvin Phillips in his squad announcement, acknowledging the situation is “not ideal”.
But left-back in particular is a position of weakness; let’s not pretend that Tyrick Mitchell is ready to be England’s left-back at a World Cup. Phillips also plays in a position with very little competition for two places, particularly with Jordan Henderson injured. Shaw and Chilwell would not be in this squad if they were right-backs and no winger would be included after just 13 minutes of football.
The inclusion of Jarrod Bowen is perhaps a little harder to justify but Southgate has traditionally resisted giving players just one chance and he obviously saw enough in June to believe he deserved another. This is a bloated squad and you would imagine that Bowen is one of those right on the edge.
That’s not to say there are none with a right to feel a little aggrieved, though calls for Jack Harrison based on a handful of games are naive. James Maddison seems to be forever consigned to the naughty step, with Leicester’s atrocious start to the season making him easy to ignore.
Ben White has perhaps the biggest cause to feel affronted, but he should save his annoyance for William Saliba, whose Arsenal form has seen him usurped at centre-half and shunted into a position where the competition at England is far more intense. Four England caps do not give him the same protection as others from a change in club status or position.
Whether White is currently a better centre-half than Maguire is not the question Southgate was answering with this particular squad announcement. He already knows that Maguire has been a better centre-half for England. Save your incredulity for November if Maguire is still playing nothing but Europa League football.
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Nottm Forest), Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Everton), Eric Dier (Spurs), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), Luke Shaw (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Man City).
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Man City), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton).
Forwards: Tammy Abraham (Roma), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Phil Foden (Man City), Jack Grealish (Man City), Harry Kane (Spurs), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Ivan Toney (Brentford).
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