Gareth Southgate praised the professionalism of Jesse Lingard James Ward-Prowse and Ollie Watkins after they were among six players cut from England’s Euro 2020 squad.
Having named a provisional 33-man selection last Tuesday due to players’ injury concerns and continental cup final commitments, the Three Lions boss whittled his selection down to 26 names.
Mason Greenwood’s injury removed one player from consideration, with in-form West Ham loanee Lingard, Southampton skipper Ward-Prowse and Villa striker Watkins the most striking absentees.
Uncapped trio Aaron Ramsdale, Ben Godfrey and Ben White were, as expected, also cut but all six will stay with the squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Austria and Sunday’s clash with Romania.
“I spoke to the three more senior players yesterday to explain what was happening,” Southgate said.
“Of course that’s always difficult. You know what a big thing it is for a player to go to a major tournament and those three boys have really been valuable members of our squad.
“I gave them all the option if they didn’t want to stay with the group to go home, but they were all adamant (they wanted to stay).
“They value being with England they want to be part of the squad, they know that we’ve still got two matches to play, which they will be involved in, and if we pick up injuries that group are the ones who are on standby.
“I’m always mindful with what happened with Trevor Sinclair in Japan (at the 2002 World Cup) that things can change very suddenly.
“So, of course it is difficult. It’s always nicer to say to people they are in a squad for the first time or give them their first cap. Much more difficult because I have been a player, I know how difficult it is to receive that news.”
Lingard is set to get the chance to prove Southgate wrong with a starting spot against Austria in the absence of Jadon Sancho, due to illness, and European finalists Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden.
Kyle Walker and Reece James are among the others unavailable for the same reason, but Southgate still has more than enough options at right-back with Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold to call upon.
The England boss was puzzled by reports that the latter’s place was in jeopardy – “I spoke with Trent about three weeks ago,” he said – and was clearly braced for talk about his decision to select four right-backs.
“Yes, we have four players who sometimes play at right-back with their clubs but Kieran is here and he has been playing at wing-back as well as right-back,” Southgate said.
“Reece James has been playing right of a three or right wing-back, Trent plays at right-back and Kyle Walker has played at centre-half for us in a three and has also played at left-back for us in a game against Denmark. Reece James was in midfield against Aston Villa.
“Basically they’re in our best 26 footballers and that’s why they are in the squad and if I could have picked a fifth or sixth right-back I probably would have done.”
Southgate made that comment with a playful smile, having named a squad that included 19-year-old Bukayo Saka and Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, who is just 17.
“He is phenomenal,” the Three Lions boss said of Bellingham. “Just in training in the last couple of days, to have a 17-year-old who wants to compete with senior players, not only has the techniques but the competitiveness and the maturity.
“He’s a hugely exciting player. He’s going to be an important player for England.
“I think we’re not just taking him for the experience. The experience is going to be enormous for him and for future England managers because I don’t see with him anything in his character that means he won’t succeed.
“His performance levels with Dortmund in the big Champions League games were the things that really struck us, you know? He stood up in those big moments and they’re the moments we’re really assessing the players on.”
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