Gareth Southgate has made the shock decision to include James Maddison in his England squad for the World Cup in Qatar. The Leicester playmaker, who has been in outstanding form in 2022, had feared he would be overlooked by a manager who had only used him once before – as a substitute in the European Championship qualifier against Montenegro in November 2019.
Southgate also recalled Marcus Rashford and rewarded the Manchester United striker for his return to form, making room for Ben White, Callum Wilson and Conor Gallagher. White will offer an option at right-back, with Reece James ruled out with a knee injury, and will also provide depth in central defence, where Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi have been ruled out.
Gallagher’s inclusion is something of a surprise, given that he has started just seven games in all competitions for Chelsea, where he returned in the summer after a successful loan spell at Crystal Palace. Southgate has featured him four times, most recently last June in the dismal 4-0 home defeat to Hungary in the Nations League, and said he was impressed with how Gallagher had responded to being left out in September, including showing an excellent attitude with Under 21 years.
Maddison had been called up in October 2018 and September 2019 without playing and was included by Southgate in October 2019 for the qualifying ties against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria only to pull out, citing illness. He was then photographed in a casino while his team-mates lost in Prague, prompting awkward questions for Southgate, who nevertheless selected him for his next squad and gave Maddison his debut against Montengro before naming him as an unused substitute against Kosovo.
“It was unfortunate from his perspective,” Southgate said of the casino incident. “It was a bigger issue [for him] than it was for me. It wasn’t the drama it seemed to be to everyone else.”
Maddison has been involved in 22 goals in the Premier League this calendar year, a figure only surpassed by Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne and Son Heung-min. “He’s playing really well,” Southgate said of Maddison. “He’s a good player; we’ve always said he’s a good player – he’s earned the right. We think he can give us something different to the other attacking players we have.”
Southgate said of the news to Maddison: “He was delighted. I had some very difficult conversations which were at the other end of the spectrum emotionally.” The manager said he had only spoken to Maddison, Kyle Walker, Kalvin Phillips and the players he left out and told those left out: “Things can still change over the weekend.”
Wilson, like Rashford, has been out of the picture. The Newcastle striker won the last of his four caps in October 2019 but has been a goalscorer this season and has been preferred to Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney. “Tammys had a bad run of scoring form at the wrong time really,” Southgate said. There is no place for West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen, who has failed to hit the ground running this season.
Southgate has named Manchester City pair Walker and Phillips in his 26-man squad for Qatar despite the former recovering from groin surgery on October 4. Phillips has barely played this season, mainly due to shoulder surgery at the end of September, although he did return as a second-half substitute in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
Southgate said Walker was not back in full training but would be available before the end of the group stage and that to have selected James would have been “judged as arrogant in some circles” when the Chelsea player would not have been ready until the latter stages if all went well perfect. Walker, he said, was “way ahead of that.”
It was further England devastation for James Ward-Prowse as he was left out, having also been cut very last before the Euros last summer. “James competes with [Jude] Bellingham and [Jordan] Henderson and to a lesser extent Conor Gallagher and he’s right behind those guys,” Southgate said.
Rashford’s previous appearance for England came at Euro 2020 in the penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy, when he missed his kick. Southgate had previously counted on him at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the player’s experience helped push his case. As expected, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been involved.
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte said on Wednesday that Harry Kane was “really tired”, prompting Southgate to reply: “I’m sure he is!”
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