England’s Gareth Southgate has a Euros headache: Who to leave at home

The most difficult task Gareth Southgate faces this summer will be in trying to win the European Championships. The second-most difficult? That’s already underway.

Southgate, the England head coach, is blessed with an abundance of talent among his country’s current generation, so much so that narrowing his options down to a final squad of 26 will prove to be devilishly tricky.

That much was highlighted on Tuesday, when Southgate opted to name a provisional group of 33, buying himself a little more time before final cuts must be made by June 7.

Even with an enlarged pool, there were some high-profile omissions, plus some choices that must have left the unlucky men wondering what more they needed to do to warrant inclusion.

Marcus Rashford was the biggest name to be denied the chance of Euros glory in Germany this summer, snubbed after a troubled season with Manchester United that brought him only seven goals.

Once one of the most beloved figures in English sports after his efforts at the Euros three years ago and his role in spearheading a national children’s school lunch program, Rashford’s first-phase rejection by Southgate was painful proof that his star has recently waned.

Midfielder Jordan Henderson was also left out, despite having long been seen as one of the most important and influential leaders for England, suffering perhaps from his choice to leave Liverpool for Al-Ettifaqx in Saudi Arabia, before then moving on to Dutch side Ajax.

“(Henderson) is a fantastic professional and it was a difficult call to make,” Southgate said at a press conference. He’ll be (missed). He’s an exceptional individual and fantastic human being.”

2024 UEFA Euro Cup Draw: Full group seedings

2024 UEFA Euro Cup Draw: Full group seedings

Regarding Rashford, Southgate added: “You are talking about players who are very good players who have been an important part of what we have done. With Marcus, I feel players in the same area of the pitch have had better seasons, it’s a simple as that.”

England reached the final at London’s Wembley Stadium in 2021, and a first major trophy since 1966 apparently loomed, only for those dreams to be crushed when Italy equalized in the second half and went on to prevail in a penalty shootout.

Raheem Sterling was a key part of that campaign, but was not picked on Tuesday. Neither was midfielder Eric Dier, who shined last season while on loan at Bayern Munich from Tottenham.

There were several names on the “in” list, of course, that were no surprise at all. Captain and striker Harry Kane, Real Madrid superstar Jude Bellingham, Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka. 

That potent attacking force means that the only available spot for Manchester City’s Phil Foden may be on the left wing, despite Foden coming in on the back of brilliant club form — simply put, City would not have won the Premier League title for a fourth-straight time without him.

[Want great stories delivered right to your inbox? Create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow leagues, teams and players to receive a personalized newsletter daily.]

Other picks carried some nuance. Typically, squad sizes allowing 23 players rarely allow coaches to take a risk on players carrying injury concerns. However, UEFA’s decision to leave the squads at 26 — they were expanded for the last tournament due to COVID concerns — permits some flexibility.

Southgate is a big supporter of Manchester United left back Luke Shaw, who scored England’s goal in the Euros final in 2021. Shaw has been injured with a muscle strain since February but was selected in the 33, even though medical staff had given an initially gloomy prognosis as his ability to be fully fit in time for the group stage.

England goes into the event as one of the chief favorites, beginning its campaign against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen on June 16, before also taking on Denmark and Slovenia in Group C.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

Get more from UEFA Euro Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

Source link