Feigning outrage is something wonderfully engrained within the English psyche, and a squad announcement for a major international tournament is a tantalising window of opportunity for many of us.
This summer has proved no different, as we rally against a man in a waistcoat for failing to appreciate our biased opinions built on club loyalties.
There are, of course, areas of contention that are interesting to debate. The original inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold amongst three other right-backs remains significant, despite his summer-ending injury.
It means that Southgate will prioritise a back five, particularly in Maguire’s absence. It also suggests that the England manager is favouring versatility, opening the door for the likes of Kyle Walker and Reece James to shift between right-back, wing-back and centre back.
This seems mirrored in the selection of Bukayo Saka over Jesse Lingard. Although not comparable as players, it does seem that Saka has pipped Lingard to the post due to his adaptability as well as his bolstering of England’s left flank. Looking more centrally, Lingard was never going to supersede those he better resembles, such as Mason Mount or Jack Grealish.
We find a slight contradiction then in Southgate’s selection of Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings, who seem far less dynamic than the ejected Ben White and Ben Godfrey. The latter pairing is much quicker and significantly more flexible, and their omission has left England a little uninspired and rigid at centre half.
As for the inclusion of Maguire and his leadership group colleague Jordan Henderson, their place is a no-brainer. The latter has driven Liverpool to win everything under the sun, and Maguire will be needed to bolster England at the back, should they progress to the knockout stages. Both will offer plenty away from the pitch too.
Up front, England have only two recognised strikers in Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Many are upset to see Ollie Watkins go, but I agree with Southgate’s decision to favour England’s abundance of talent on the wing, and I’m not sure what the specifics of his role would be. Calvert-Lewin represents a potent aerial threat should England need to bundle the ball home, and seems a more obvious plan B to Kane than the Aston Villa man.
There is always debate over a squad, but does this group truly merit outrage?
On the contrary, it seems rather well balanced, save the aforementioned issues in the centre of defence. Southgate cannot take every single attacking player that has impressed this season, and the dangers of overloading upfront were desperately clear during Guardiola’s failed Champions League experiment.
Forgive my temperate praise, but the mix of leadership and youth seems a good one. Moving away from the more peripheral picks, this is a squad of winners.
The City boys have all played a huge role in a dominant season, marred only by Mason Mount and Reece James in the Champions League Final. Kieran Tripper is fresh from winning La Liga, and Bellingham and Sancho have had their stellar finishes to the season rewarded with the DFB-Pokal.
This England squad is better than the twenty-three that went to Russia three years ago. There is a better relationship between youth and experience, and many of those recalled have matured into elite club players, not just taking part but also responsibility in the world’s biggest games.
With all due respect, the likes of Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Danny Welbeck have been significantly upgraded upon. The simple fact that Watkins, Lingard, Ward-Prowse or indeed Patrick Bamford cannot squeeze their way in is less an issue with selection than a depiction of the level this squad is at.
Yes, there are problems in goal. Yes, Southgate may have lost a little pace at centre back. But this oh so precious medium of English scandal seems largely undeserving of it this year. The furore over Southgate’s treatment of Alexander-Arnold and the media’s rumourmongering play a similar tune to the overture to tournaments before Russia 2018, a breakthrough for the atmosphere surrounding the England camp and the press covering it.
There was so much talk with so much certainty around who Southgate would axe from his 33, with each individual on social media wanting to be the first to break the news. The fact that the Liverpool man had to be assured in the weeks prior to the announcement that he would indeed be involved is a worryingly similar scene to the years of haranguing and gossiping that proved so detrimental during the tournaments before Southgate’s arrival.
So perhaps England fans, positivity ought to dominate our thoughts over the twenty-six hoping to bring it home. Starving us of our right to outrage does seem to leave something of a cynical hole in our lives, but maybe that is our role, to prevent speculation and create the atmosphere that drove success three years ago.
Whisper it, but this England squad is high-class, and Southgate is an excellent man manager. Why all the fuss?
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