Sunday 26 May 2019

Southgate puts faith in energy and youth

Adam Lallana. Photo: PA
Adam Lallana. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

Be bold. Be brave. Be brutal. Gareth Southgate proved to be all three with the 23-man squad he has selected to represent England at the World Cup in Russia.

The unfortunate Adam Lallana, who has failed to prove his fitness, is the biggest casualty and can be added to other big names left at home: Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere and Ryan Bertrand. But Lallana is on the five-strong standby list, and could still make it.

There was poignancy in that the squad was revealed just as the death of Ray Wilson, at the age of 83, was announced. The left-back was the oldest member of Alf Ramsey's triumphant 1966 World Cup-winning team and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2004. After Bobby Moore and Alan Ball, he is the third player from the team to pass away.

Southgate has followed his instincts and gone for youth by bringing in the uncapped 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has not officially been in the senior squad before, but has trained with them and impressed.

Similarly, Southgate has included Fabian Delph, who has not played for his country for three years, as one of four Englishman who have performed so well in Pep Guardiola's Premier League-winning, record-breaking Manchester City side.


Southgate has also selected five players from Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur, and three from Jose Mourinho's Manchester United. That is 15 players from three of the four clubs who have qualified for Champions League.

Liverpool's contingent would have been higher had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez not been injured. Gomez's absence earned Gary Cahill a reprieve, and with 52 appearances the Chelsea defender has 20 caps more than the next most experienced player, Jordan Henderson.

It is, in fact, the first England squad since 1962 with an average of fewer than 20 caps each. Given there are far more internationals nowadays, that it is a significant figure. It is also the youngest squad since 1958 (average age just under 26), although not hugely more youthful than the one Roy Hodgson took to Brazil four years ago (average age 26.5 years; average caps 27).

But it is a very different squad from 2014. In fact, only five players - Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Cahill and Henderson - were involved four years ago. Not one has experienced winning a match at a World Cup.

That represents a cull under Southgate; a revolution rather than an evolution. There is vibrancy, youth and technical adeptness to the squad.

Lallana's exclusion means there will be no re-run of the injury sagas England have taken into previous finals and similarly Southgate has not selected on reputation. He has chosen a squad for the systems - 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 - that he wants to implement.

"This is a squad which we can be excited about. We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team, but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we've been looking to develop," Southgate explained.

"The first call-up for Trent Alexander-Arnold is well deserved. When we pick young players, it's not just because they are young, it's because their performances deserve it. We've also had a couple of injuries with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez."

A couple of areas of concern are that the three goalkeepers, including uncapped Nick Pope, have just nine caps between them while only two players - Welbeck (with 15) and Harry Kane (12) - have reached double figures for goals.

Southgate will do it his way, that is a refreshing difference from all his predecessors, bar the one he was most influenced by as an England player: Terry Venables.

There was also a zeitgeist feel to the announcement with the English FA using "the nation's football-mad youth" to reveal the 23 names in a video.

Meanwhile, players posted heartfelt messages, including Marcus Rashford thanking his mother on Twitter. He wrote: "After years of you standing on the touch line in the cold and rain, Mum we're off to the World Cup!"

Also on social media, his United team-mate Ashley Young used a photograph of himself as a young boy in an England kit. "Maybe this picture said I was gonna live my dream and go to a World Cup - dreams do come true," he wrote.

At 32, he is one of the older members of the squad but is heading to his first World Cup after fighting his way back for club and country.

It may be a sign of the times but it also felt as if there was a genuine excitement about being chosen - which has not always appeared to be the case with England.

Chris Smalling and Jake Livermore are not included, although the latter makes the standby list along with Lewis Cook, James Tarkowski and goalkeeper Tom Heaton - who has not even played since last September.

The exclusion of Hart signals the end of his international career under Southgate.

Southgate will explain his selections - and omissions - at a press conference at Wembley Stadium today. He may well use the opportunity to name his captain for the tournament. It is a choice between Kane and Henderson.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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