Paul Merson believes injured Chelsea defender Reece James should have been selected for England’s World Cup squad as they stand no chance of winning without him.
James, 22, was omitted from the Three Lions squad for Qatar after failing to recover from a knee injury. The talented right-back picked up the problem as the Blues beat AC Milan 2-0 in the Champions League on October 11. It was always going to be tough for the youngster to recover in time.
And Southgate took the decision not to risk him for the Middle East showpiece. James has worked hard to try and regain his fitness.
And the Londoner confessed that he was ‘devastated’ not to be on the plane to Qatar. Merson has now weighed in on the issue.
The former Arsenal forward believes a different decision would have been taken if Harry Kane was the player involved.
And he feels leaving the Chelsea full-back in England means the wait will go on for England to emulate the 1966 heroes.
“If it was Harry Kane he would be going – what’s the difference? We aren’t going to win the World Cup without having James in the team,” Merson wrote in The Star.
“He is a shoo-in to start and if we took him, he plays in England’s team every day of the week. He is one of our best players.
“If it was Kane, they would say ‘right we’ll take him and use him after the group stages’.
“We are as bad as anybody at the back so we need to take one of our best players. I just don’t understand it. He is as important as Kane.”
James critical for knockout stage
James made it clear that he was ready to take a risk with the World Cup. Southgate clearly saw things differently and chose not to include the right-back in his squad.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker will vie for the position over the next few weeks.
Merson feels Liverpool’s Alexander-Arnold is fine for the early part of the competition.
But the man capped 21 times by England is adamant that James would have been vital to the cause as the tournament progressed.
“Reading his statement, he feels like he is going to be fit in a few week’s time,” he continued. “Now I would have only used him in the knockout stages anyway.
“I’d have wrapped him up in cotton wool because you can use Trent Alexander-Arnold in the group stages where you have 70 per cent of the ball and he’s going to look a world-beater.
“Then when we come up against France and he falls asleep and Kylian Mbappe scores we’ll all be scratching our heads. I am shocked.”
And the Sky Sports pundit pointed out a couple of reasons why taking James makes perfect sense.
“Having a squad of 26 players gives you a safety net to take a risk and bring an injured player,” he continued. “It’s usually 23 and we still have taken injured players in the past.”
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