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Southgate rejects sentiment in building England squad


When you have as much talent on offer as Gareth Southgate does at the helm of England, there are always going to be tough choices when it comes to building out a roster for a major tournament.

But the story of Southgate’s 33-man training squad ahead of Euro 2024 is as much about who isn’t there as much as who is. A number of major names, including many of whom Southgate has been reliant upon in the past, will not be on the plane to Germany.

Euro 2024 marks the fourth major tournament for Southgate as the Three Lions manager – joining World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey as the only England manager to lead the team at four major tournaments – and it could be his last. Rumours have swirled that the former England defender is in the frame to replace Erik ten Hag at Manchester United should Sir Jim Ratcliffe decide to make a change on the touchline. But leaving for the Red Devils isn’t Southgate’s only possible exit scenario. Should England underperform at Euro 2024, Southgate will almost assuredly be sacked by the FA. Such is the kind of pressure that the person in charge of the England team constantly faces.

Heartbreak in 2021

ContentId(1.1666709): Euro 2020 Final: Italy 1, England 1 (3-2 PK)

The last Euro could not have been any more heartbreaking for the Three Lions. Playing all of their matches in front of rabid home fans at Wembley, England advanced to its first international final since the 1966 World Cup Final, defeating Germany, Ukraine and Denmark in the knockout round to set up a date with Italy.

Fate appeared to be on England’s side in the final when United left-back Luke Shaw fired the Three Lions ahead only two minutes into the match. The Azzurri would grow into the match, though, and when Leonardo Bonucci squared things in the 67th minute, it truly felt like the equalizer was coming. The two teams would play out a deadlock for the remainder of the 90 minutes and through 30 minutes of extra time to lead to the scariest word for an English football fan: penalties.

Since the advent of spot kicks to settle matches at major tournaments in 1990, England had crashed out of one on penalties on six occasions. England fans’ fragile psyches have come honestly. Euro 2020 would only add to that misery.

After Domenico Berardi and Harry Kane converted their spot kicks as cool as you’d like, Jordan Pickford made a fine diving save on Andrea Belotti to give England the advantage and send Wembley into a frenzy. The cheers grew even louder when Harry Maguire scored to make it 2-1. But Bonucci scored his penalty before a hesitant Marcus Rashford rang his effort off of the post to throw things back up for grabs. Federico Bernardeschi went right up the middle to once again put the Azzurri on top followed by Gianluigi Donnarumma’s diving save on Jadon Sancho.

With his back against the wall, Pickford again produced a moment of magic with a diving stop to deny Jorginho, leaving it up to Bukayo Saka to force sudden death. The Arsenal winger’s effort was almost identical to Sancho’s as Donnarumma once again leapt to his left to make the save and earn Italy their first European championship since 1968. It was not, in fact, coming home.

It is in the shadow of that crushing disappointment in 2021 – and a quarter-finals exit at the 2022 World Cup at the hands of France – that Southgate builds his team for Germany. Perhaps it’s a feeling that time is of the essence that has fueled an unsentimental approach, but 12 of the 26 players from Euro 2020 will not be at Euro 2024. In many cases, Southgate has turned to in-form talent rather than proven veterans to fill out his squad.

In goal, Pickford will once again be entrusted with the No. 1 shirt. While Pickford has undoubtedly shone while representing his country in the past, his acclamation as starter is as much due to a dearth of other true options for Southgate. Joining the Everton man will be the uncapped James Trafford of Burnley, Crystal Palace’s Dean Henderson and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale.

Of that trio, only Trafford was a regular starter for his club this season. Henderson took over the reins at Selhurst Park only when Sam Johnstone, who likely would have made Southgate’s squad, was sidelined with an elbow injury in March. Ramsdale made only 11 appearances across all competitions for the Gunners this season upon the arrival of David Raya and is probably on the move this summer. The biggest omission here is Newcastle’s Nick Pope, who appeared at the last Euro and last two World Cups. Injured in March, Pope was able to return to the Magpies’ starting XI for the last game of the season, but his fitness was obviously too much of a concern for Southgate.

Many of Southgate’s most trusted names appear in his defensive corps. Only months after it appeared his United career was over, a resurgent campaign in which he regained his confidence has Maguire on the plane to Germany. He will likely form Southgate’s first-choice central defensive partnership alongside John Stones of Manchester City if he is healthy enough, with Maguire currently battling a muscular injury. City captain Kyle Walker, the oldest player in the squad at 33, will undoubtedly start at right-back. What happens at left-back remains to be seen due to concerns over Shaw’s availability. The Red Devils star has been out of action since February and Southgate admits he’s a long shot to be ready for Germany, but he’s a favourite of the manager’s and will be given every opportunity to make the team. Should he miss out, another veteran in Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier will likely get the nod.

The most interesting additions to the backline are a pair of uncapped Merseyside players in Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite and Jarell Quansah of Liverpool. The 21-year-old Branthwaite is expected to be hotly sought-after in this summer’s transfer market following a season in which he helped ensure the Toffees weren’t dragged into a second-straight relegation battle. Quansah, 21, made his debut in the Reds first team this past season and, with a litany of injuries in the squad, made the most of his opportunities, finishing the season with 17 Premier League appearances.

Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa, Joe Gomez of Liverpool, Brighton’s Lewis Dunk and Marc Guehi of Palace round out the defensive options.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arsenal’s Ben White is not on the roster, and he might not be on another as long as Southgate is managing the team. An unused substitute at Euro 2020, White did not play in Qatar and left World Cup 2022 early for “personal reasons,” amid a reported bust-up with assistant manager Steve Holland. In March, White turned down a call-up for a pair of friendlies, telling Southgate that he did not want to play for England at the time. Southgate says that White wasn’t contacted when making up his squad, with the manager under the impression that the player still felt the same way.

Also left out in the back were Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell and Levi Colwill, Calgary-born Milan centre-back Fikayo Tomori and Bayern Munich’s Eric Dier. Blues captain Reece James, who missed all but 11 games this season for his club with injury, also misses out.

Hendo absent

For the first time since the 2010 World Cup, England will enter a major tournament without Jordan Henderson. One of Southgate’s most trusted midfield players, Henderson left Liverpool for Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq last summer to play under former teammate and England midfielder Steven Gerrard. The move was roundly criticized as Henderson had been an outspoken proponent of LGBTQ rights and homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. In an October friendly at Wembley against Australia, Henderson was jeered by the crowd. The 33-year-old Henderson’s Saudi career ended after just 17 games with a January move to Ajax, but the damage to his reputation was done.

Likewise, there was no room for Kalvin Phillips. His absence from the squad was an expected one. The Manchester City midfielder, who spent last season on loan at West Ham, has been a regular starter under Southgate, but his lack of playing time has curbed his international career. Since moving to the Etihad from Leeds in 2022, Phillips has made just 24 Premier League appearances.

The midfield will be anchored by Jude Bellingham. The 20-year-old Birmingham City academy product lived up to the hype and his monster transfer fee (an initial £88 million) in his first season at Real Madrid. Bellingham notched a career-high 19 goals in 27 La Liga matches to help Los Blancos claim another league title. Already capped 29 times by the Three Lions, Bellingham will be a mainstay for years to come.

Joining him will be Arsenal’s Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool, Spurs’ James Maddison and Chelsea’s Connor Gallagher. The rest of the midfield sees youth being served. One of the few bright spots of an otherwise dour United season was the emergence of Kobbie Mainoo. The 19-year-old central midfielder received his first caps in the spring, including a man-of-the-match performance in his first ever start against Brazil. There is also room for a pair of uncapped players in Liverpool’s Curtis Jones and Palace’s Adam Wharton, who impressed with the in-form Eagles following a January move from Blackburn Rovers.

No room for Rashford

Up front is where Southgate made his most controversial omission in the form of United forward Marcus Rashford. Rashford’s 17 international goals are the third-most among active players behind Bayern’s Kane (62) and Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling (20), who has also been left off of the squad. Leaving Rashford at home is obviously a risk, but it’s a defensible choice from Southgate. Simply put, he did not have the kind of season befitting a player expecting to play for England. After a 30-goal performance across all competitions in 2022-2023, Rashford struggled mightily this past season, notching just seven league goals. Looking lost at times, it’s no wonder that there is some chatter that Rashford’s United career will end after 20 years at the team.

The logic behind leaving Rashford, a reliable international performer, at home is that Southgate is confident he will get offence from elsewhere, and it’s not a misguided confidence. Talisman Kane will lead the line up front fresh off of a 44-goals-in-45-games campaign in Germany. Accompanying him will be City winger Phil Foden, who claimed the Premier League Player of the Year honour following a season where he scored 19 league goals. The only English player with more Premier League goals this past season was Cole Palmer with 22. The 22-year-old Chelsea man will also be on the squad.

That trio will be joined by Saka, Villa’s Ollie Watkins, who had 19 Premier League goals, Jarrod Bowen of West Ham, Brentford’s Ivan Toney, wingers Jack Grealish of City and Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon and Palace’s Eberechi Eze.

Snubbed from the squad were United winger Jadon Sancho, who revitalized his career with a midseason loan to Borussia Dortmund, Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.

England will now take on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland in a pair of friendlies before opening the Euro on June 16 against Serbia. Denmark and Slovenia round out Group C. Before the tournament kicks off, Southgate must trim his squad from 33 to 26.