Gareth Southgate is considering resting all seven of England’s Champions League finalists, including his captain Harry Kane, for the Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands in a move he believes will demonstrate the depth of quality in his squad.
The contingent of players from Liverpool and Tottenham reported for duty at St George’s Park on Tuesday and have enjoyed two training sessions with the national setup, in effect leaving them to play catch-up in their preparations for the tie against the Dutch. Southgate confirmed all seven are fit, albeit Jordan Henderson trained on his own before the squad’s departure for Portugal, but suggested he may opt to select players with whom he has worked more extensively in the buildup to the two-game tournament.
“I have to assess all the players who were involved in Madrid,” Southgate said. “That was a unique game and a unique set of circumstances: whether you won or lost, the emotional and physical implications; the fact that the players only arrived on Tuesday, and there’s a lot of tactical work that has been going on.
“When I took over, I remember talking about how everything had fallen on Wayne Rooney’s shoulders whenever we’d been to major tournaments. I was in Japan [in 2002] and everything was around David Beckham and whether he would be fit. We had to build a team where we weren’t reliant upon one player or a couple of players, where the burden was shared, and people carried the baton at different times. And that we had competition for places and strength in depth. Motivation comes from wanting to win, but [also from] knowing there are players who can come in and take your place.
“We have huge trust in all our players. I wouldn’t hesitate putting any of them in. They’ve played important matches for us. We went to Spain with Ben Chilwell, Joe Gomez, Harry Winks … you never know what these guys are capable of until they’re given the opportunity, and they’ve thrived on that.”
Kane’s appearance in the final in Madrid was his first since damaging ankle ligaments against Manchester City in early April, and his performance was understandably rusty as a result. Yet his omission would still constitute something of a surprise given Southgate had previously suggested he would make an exception for a striker who has scored 17 goals in as many games as captain under his stewardship. The player himself suggested he is ready to play. “Physically I feel good,” Kane said. “With injuries, it’s never easy. I was out for eight weeks. You do as much as you can [to be fit], but I’ve been training for a few weeks and played on Saturday. No problems.”
Southgate said: “All managers have really difficult decisions to make on selections when you have top-quality players who have won you so many matches. There is obviously a bigger temptation to do that. But you make decisions on the evidence in front of you. If you’re at a club seeing players every day, you know where they’re at. We have less evidence and have to make judgments slightly differently. You look at previous performances, club form, what the players are capable of, but we have to prepare a team we believe can cause the Dutch the maximum problems and expose the weaknesses we see. We do so with the mentality that we, as a coaching staff, have huge belief and trust in whoever is in the shirt.”
In Kane’s absence, Raheem Sterling is expected to wear the captain’s armband as he earns his 50th cap, though the City forward had felt compelled to apologise to Southgate earlier in the day after a press release issued on behalf of his management company late on Tuesday night had claimed he would captain the side in Guimarães.
I couldn’t tell you [how that happened],” said Sterling. “I woke up this morning fuming. I hadn’t had a conversation with anyone in my agency, so it was a strange one to wake up to. The first thing I saw after I came off the phone to my agent was Gareth down the hallway, and I apologised to him for what had happened. I don’t know where that came from.
“The captaincy is something that’s down to the manager and not for me to decide. But if the manager did do that, it’s something I’d be proud and happy to do, for sure. That’s up to the manager. To win a 50th cap will be a massive achievement for me, and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and so will my family.”
England, semi-finalists at the World Cup last summer, consider the Nations League an ideal opportunity to maintain recent progress and become the first winners of Uefa’s new trophy. “We know the batting order is the World Cup and the European Championship, but now we have a new competition which only the best 12 teams could enter in our division,” Southgate said. “We want to get into the habit of winning things. We have players who are hungry, and we want to be in with a chance of winning things. That’s what this competition offers us. We want to leave here on Sunday with a trophy.”