by Dom Smith
Gareth Southgate has said he made the decision to select James Maddison in his England squad weeks ago.
He named the 26-man squad for this month’s World Cup in Qatar today, with Maddison, Callum Wilson, Marcus Rashford and Conor Gallagher all selected. Meanwhile, James Ward-Prowse, Fikayo Tomori and Jadon Sancho were among the players to miss out on a place.
Maddison has only played once for England, against Montenegro in 2019, but Southgate has finally been cowed by the public pressure to include him. Maddison has admitted his determination to break back into the England squad in numerous interviews since his single appearance three years ago.
The England manager said: “We decided a couple of weeks ago that we would [include him]. He’s playing really well. We’ve always said he’s a good player; he’s earned the right. We think he can give us something a little bit different to other players that we’ve got. Ahead of the Euros I don’t think he was in contention. September was a fair debate. I think he’s playing as well as any of the attacking players in this country.
“That wasn’t the drama that it seemed to be for everyone else. He’s playing exceptionally well. He plays forward — not enough players play forward in this day and age. His set-piece delivery is outstanding. He was delighted. I’ve had some very difficult calls that were emotionally at the other end of the spectrum.”
Southgate has named Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips in the squad despite both having spent long periods in the treatment room. He told the media at St George’s Park: “Having 26 available meant we were able to make a couple of risks. [Phillips] is free of injury. We don’t have a lot of cover in that position in the country.”
But the England manager will have to do without fullbacks Reece James, Ben Chilwell and James Justin, who were not named in the squad due to injuries.
Southgate admitted: “We’ve got an unbelievable injury lists of fullbacks at the moment, left and right. We had to make a very difficult call with Reece, who we think is going to be a fantastic player.”
Chelsea’s all-action midfielder Conor Gallagher is one of the least experienced players in the squad, with only four caps.
Southgate was full of praise for the 22-year-old, saying: “He’s fantastic at pressing the ball. I think there are going to be moments in these games where we need different attributes. We feel he could be that sort of a player. He has an impact in games, he’s got a goal threat. With midfielders: do they stop goals, do they create goals, do they score goals? He does a little bit of all of that.”
The final round of Premier League fixtures before the league season pauses for the World Cup takes place this weekend. Asked whether he will have a nail-biting few days ahead of him, fretting on the fitness of his 26 players, Southgate said: “Not for me! There’s nothing I can do about it. We can do nothing about injuries. We’ve already been hit in that way. I’ve spoken with a few of the players [who missed out] to say that things can still change over the weekend.”
England’s players then meet up at St George’s Park on Monday before flying to Qatar first thing Tuesday morning.