England manager Gareth Southgate insisted his 23-man squad is built to win now rather than building for the future, despite picking his country’s third youngest ever squad for a World Cup.
Veteran goalkeeper Joe Hart and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere were among the big names to miss out on Southgate’s squad, whilst 19-year-old uncapped Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was included.
“We are not picking young players because we are trying to buy ourselves time, we are picking young players because we believe they are the best,” said Southgate on Thursday.
“Maybe it is brave to take players without the number of caps, but we have to give these guys belief.”
Former England striker Gary Lineker joined a host of pundits in calling on Southgate to “write off” any hopes of lifting the World Cup in Moscow on July 15 in favour of blooding youngsters.
However, Southgate said he resisted the temptation to name en even younger squad by ruling out the likes of Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon and Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund to pick those that on form are best placed to succeed in Russia.
“I don’t think when you’re involved with England you can write any tournament off,” he added.
“We know teams that win tournaments normally have more caps than we do, have more appearances in semi-finals and finals than we do. That’s where we want to head and that’s what Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina have done in junior and senior tournaments.
“We have great faith in them. They lack some big match experience, but how are they going to get that? I don’t want to limit what they think is possible. We need to enjoy the ride and embrace the tournament.”
– ‘Unique situation’ –
Southgate did concede, however, that his job has been made much harder by the lack of Englishmen playing regularly in the Premier League.
“We pick from 33 percent of the league which is quite a unique situation, but there is excitement with where we are going.”
Capped 75 times, Hart, would have been England’s most experienced player had he been selected.
Hart, 31, started only half of West Ham’s Premier League games this season and conceded 39 goals in his 19 league appearances in a loan spell from Manchester City.
However, Southgate insisted Hart’s international career isn’t over should he secure a permanent move away from City, where he has fallen down the pecking order, and get back to his best.
“If he’s playing well for his club why wouldn’t I select him? He has an important career decision this summer and we hope he can be back playing at his very best,” said Southgate.
Hart wasn’t even selected in Southgate’s stand-by list with Burnley’s Tom Heaton in reserve for club team-mate Nick Pope, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford.
Southgate clarified that had been his call, rather than Hart’s refusal to be on stand-by.
“(It was) my decision,” he added. “I think if you were the number one and asked to fulfil that role I think it is a very different challenge and I think the best thing for Joe now is to get his future sorted out this summer.”