Gareth Southgate has taken 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 has previously used him only once – as a substitute in the European Championship qualifying win over Montenegro in November 2019.
Southgate also recalled Marcus Rashford, rewarding the Manchester United striker for his return to form, and found room for Ben White, Callum Wilson and Conor Gallagher. White will offer an option at right-back, with Reece James ruled out because of a knee injury, and will also provide depth in central defence, where Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi have been excluded.
Gallagher’s inclusion is something of a surprise, given he has started only seven games in all competitions for Chelsea, where he returned over the summer after a successful loan at Crystal Palace. Southgate has capped him four times, most recently last June in the dismal 4-0 home loss to Hungary in the Nations League, and said he was impressed at how Gallagher had reacted to being left out in September, including showing an excellent attitude with the Under-21s.
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 withdraw, citing illness. He was then photographed at a casino while his teammates lost in Prague, leading to uncomfortable questions for Southgate, who nonetheless selected him for his next squad and gave Maddison his debut against Montengro before naming him as an unused substitute against Kosovo.
“That 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 that it seemed to be for everyone else.”
Maddison has had 22 Premier League goal involvements in this calendar year, a figure bettered only 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 slightly different from the other attacking players we have got.”
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Southgate said of breaking the news to Maddison: “He was delighted. I had some very difficult calls that were emotionally at the other end of the spectrum.” The manager said he had spoken only to Maddison, Kyle Walker, Kalvin Phillips and the players he left out and that he had told those omitted: “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 in goalscoring touch this season and has been preferred to Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney. “Tammy’s had a poor run of scoring form at the wrong time really,” Southgate said. There is no place for the West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen, who has failed to hit his stride this season.
Southgate has selected the Manchester City pair Walker and Phillips in his 26-man squad for Qatar even though the former is recovering from groin surgery on 4 October. Phillips has barely played this season, mainly because of a shoulder operation towards the end of September, although he made his 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 picked James would have been “deemed arrogant in some circles” when the Chelsea player would not have been ready until the latter stages if everything went perfectly. Walker, he said, was “a long way ahead of that”.
There was further England devastation for James Ward-Prowse as he was omitted, having also been cut at the very last before the Euros in the summer of last year. “James is competing with [Jude] Bellingham and [Jordan] Henderson and to a lesser degree Conor Gallagher and he is just behind those guys,” Southgate said.
Rashford’s previous England appearance came in the Euro 2020 penalty shootout defeat against 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 to press his case. As expected, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been included.
Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte, said on Wednesday that Harry Kane was “really tired”, prompting Southgate to respond: “I’m sure he is!”