Gareth Southgate has warned Premier League managers that he will not hinder England’s chances of winning Euro 2020 next summer by resting their players.
While the England manager understands why clubs are unhappy about an international break coming in the week leading up to the new Premier League season, he has refused to bow to pressure to pick a weakened squad for the Nations League games away to Iceland next Saturday and Denmark on Tuesday 8 September.
England have not played since November because of the Covid-19 pandemic and Southgate, who hopes Arsène Wenger can tackle player burnout in his new role as Fifa’s global head of football development, said his job is to prepare for the delayed European Championship.
The 49-year-old, who on Saturday night called up Wolves’ Conor Coady and Ainsley Maitland-Niles of Arsenal, has picked players from Manchester City and Manchester United, even though both clubs have been given the opening weekend of the domestic campaign off after long runs in Europe, and he pointed out that other leading nations have picked strong squads for their upcoming games.
“We face a hugely challenging season for every club manager and every international manager and it does always seem that when the call to rest the players comes – and I know they are the clubs’ players – it always lands internationally,” Southgate said. “It seems to land strongly on England rather than all the other countries, who just play them all anyway.
“We are competing with the Portuguese, the French, the Spanish, the Italians, the Belgians, who just pick their strongest teams and have done this month. My job is to win games for my country and I’ve got to pick the strongest squads.
“Within that I’ve got to be sensible, with weeks like next week where training schedules are so varied that we’ve got to individualise their physical training and make sure we’re getting the right level of work in and try to manage the minutes of the squad if people need managing.
“But we’ve got to work with the players as regularly as we can. We get to see them four times between now and the European Championship and when we get to that European Championship we’ll probably have a week where they need to rest and then a two-week preparation, so it will be a shorter time than we’ve ever had. I can sit and complain about that or I can be adaptable and make sure we maximise what we’ve got – we’ve got to do the latter.”
Southgate’s defence of England included a suggestion that the domestic calendar is too packed. He has been speaking to Wenger and hopes the former Arsenal manager can come up with solutions designed to tackle the growing demands on players.
“We will always try to collaborate with the clubs,” Southgate said. “Certainly our physical-performance guys are getting lots of information from the clubs, which is very important for our planning. And equally I think across the board there’s got to be a look at the football calendar, and that’s everyone’s responsibility: Uefa, Fifa, Premier League, the FAs, the leagues across Europe – everybody is trying to put their competitions in and the calendar is growing and the spaces are getting smaller.
“I’m not going to resolve that by resting one or two players in September. The discussions have got to be better at the highest level and I’m hopeful that somebody like Arsène Wenger, having the role that he has at Fifa, can start to do that – because I’ve been on a couple of calls with him where we’ve started to have the discussion. But it’s really got to happen at that level.
“The leagues have a responsibility as well and to not have a winter break this year is a massive decision really. So again they are things that are outside my control but which should be on the table for collaborative discussion.
“In terms of Arsène, he has an excellent understanding of the reality that the best players play a huge percentage of the matches. Although teams have big squads there are different competitions across the board and the best players are the ones that take the vast percentage of games and he was very conscious of that.”
It has not been an easy few days for Southgate, who dropped Harry Maguire from the squad, leading to the call-ups for Coady and Maitland-Niles, after the Manchester United defender was found guilty of assaulting a police officer, swearing, resisting arrest and attempted bribery in Greece. Maguire maintains his innocence and has appealed his conviction.
There could be other withdrawals. United’s Marcus Rashford is a major doubt with an ankle injury and Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have been in quarantine following a Covid-19 outbreak at Chelsea. However, Southgate, who was speaking before Maguire’s conviction, was aware of the issue at Chelsea and expects the duo to turn up for duty on Sunday.