Gareth Southgate was unable to give assurances over Harry Maguire playing for England in the group stage at Euro 2020 after including the defender in a squad featuring Trent Alexander-Arnold as one of four right-backs.
England’s manager, who could also be without Jordan Henderson for the opening group game against Croatia at Wembley on 13 June, is considering reverting to a back three because of his concerns over Maguire. The centre-back missed Manchester United’s defeat by Villarreal in the Europa League final with damaged ankle ligaments last week and Southgate, who named his final 26-man squad on Tuesday, is unsure whether the 28‑year‑old will be back to face Scotland on 18 June and the Czech Republic four days later.
The uncertainty has forced Southgate, who saw United’s Mason Greenwood withdraw with an unspecified injury, to gamble on two of his most important players. Henderson has just recovered from groin surgery and although the Liverpool midfielder is expected to play some part when England face Austria in a warm-up friendly at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night, there are no guarantees he will play against Croatia.
Southgate, who cut Ollie Watkins, James Ward-Prowse, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben Godfrey and Ben White from his provisional squad, acknowledged the need to be adaptable. Including Alexander‑Arnold as well as Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier could give England greater versatility in defence. Maguire is yet to join the squad and Southgate, who would normally start him alongside John Stones in a back four, could not put a timeframe on his return.
“We have just got to keep assessing him and updating where he is,” he said. “With Jordan and Harry, we have selected a squad that, if they don’t get there, we are not in a situation where we are short of numbers and we haven’t got cover. Even though you would have a timescale for their recoveries, you only need one small setback and you are into the next game or the next phase of the tournament.
“It is not like repairing a machine – it is a human body and you can have little setbacks for any number of different reasons. Our aim is to progress them the best that we can. The most important thing is that we don’t push them beyond the point they are ready for – that would be stupid, negligent. But if we can them to the point where they can contribute to the team, that would be fantastic.”
Southgate was asked again whether Maguire, who has only just resumed running, would play in the group stage. “Both of the players are not where you would want them to be in terms of being available for Croatia,” he said. “We are realistic. But they are outstanding players. When you are talking about Maguire who hardly ever misses a game and Hendo, who has made a living out of making the impossible seem possible, then maybe they can get there.”
Southgate hit out at reports claiming that he was going to leave out Alexander-Arnold. “I spoke to Trent about three weeks ago,” he said. “I felt there were stories that ran that were so far off the truth.
“When it’s a player they might be reading it and thinking it’s true, maybe the manager is speaking to the press behind their back, but that’s obviously not the case. For me, it’s no drama. I accept as the England manager this is what I deal with. I always go back to the front page of whatever paper it was they said I was the biggest fan of British Bake Off, I always have Bake Off parties in my house and I’m desperate to be on the show. The only thing that was true in the story was my age.”
The buildup has not been ideal for Southgate, even though his squad is packed with exciting young talent. He named a larger squad last week because of injury concerns and the involvement of English clubs in the Europa League and Champions League finals. The United contingent are unavailable against Austria and players from Manchester City and Chelsea will not join the squad until Friday and will not play against Romania on Sunday.
Southgate, who will start Lingard against Austria because Jadon Sancho is unwell, was unsure about playing Alexander-Arnold in midfield. “I think it’s unlikely,” he said. “It’s a possible in that he’s a good footballer who played there as a young player. We might have a bit of a look at him so that it’s an option we’ve assessed in one of the friendlies perhaps. We want to see him at full-back first.”
England also have worries over Marcus Rashford after the forward’s admission that he has been struggling with injuries recently. “I spoke to Mason on Friday, so we had a little bit more time to be aware of that situation,” Southgate said. “I also spoke with Marcus a couple of days ago because I read his interviews after the Europa League and what I don’t want is a situation where he’s giving a similar interview after our games. He assured me he’s happy with where he’s at. He’s felt the last few days have been a help.”
Jude Bellingham was one of the most eye-catching names in the squad. The 17-year-old, who has starred for Borussia Dortmund this season, was selected in midfield instead of Ward-Prowse.
Southgate added that the six players left out would be on standby in case of injuries and had chosen to remain with the squad for the friendlies. Greenwood is not available.