Gareth Southgate has brushed off suggestions young players are picking and choosing when to play for England.
Mason Greenwood was once again a high-profile absentee from Southgate’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino later this month.
The Manchester United forward has not played for the Three Lions since making his debut away to Iceland in September 2020 – a camp he was later sent home from.
Jude Bellingham has been recalled, having asked to be given a break from international duty last month, while Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi has again opted out of an under-21 call-up after boss Lee Carsley confirmed he made the same call earlier in the season.
But Southgate insists his young stars are not baulking at the idea of playing for England and are instead still managing a crucial stage of their respective careers.
“I think this is a bit different because you’re talking about really young players and, when you’re talking about young player development, normally this happens outside the public eye,” he said when asked if he would need to put his foot down with players deciding against joining up with England.
“They would be, these boys particularly, in our under-19s or our under-21s, so we’ve got to be really careful how hard we push, they’re still physically developing.
“They’re still taking on board a lot in maturing in their own lives and particularly in the modern world you have got to listen to that I think.
“As a coach, I’ve got to get that right. These are not boys that are going to tell me something that they don’t feel from the heart and don’t have any interest in playing for England.
“They want to play for England and we’ve got to try to help them navigate that path, because we believe all of them can be very big players for England in the long term and we don’t want to get it wrong in the short-term and possibly have a detrimental effect for them, for their clubs, for us as a national team further down the line
“I would understand that (the suggestion of picking and choosing) if we were talking about older players.”
Greenwood was part of the provisional squad for Euro 2020 but was forced to withdraw through injury, with Southgate revealing conversations with the player and his family led to the decision that he would sit out all games until the March fixtures at the earliest.
“I think we had a discussion before the camp in September and we came to an agreement,” he said. “(Football Association technical director) John McDermott and myself went to United and had a good chat with Mason and his family and we agreed we would park this until next year basically.
“We would leave the autumn games. Of course, you always run the risk that other people are going to come through. But he’s young enough that there is time here.
“It’s not that he doesn’t want to be with us. We totally understand the situation. Myself and John in particular, Steve Holland through his time coaching with lots of young players…we understand this journey they are going on.”
Southgate would not be drawn on whether the decision on Greenwood was down to a physical or a mental issue, while his United team-mates Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho also missed out on the latest 25-man squad.
Marcus Rashford is included having looked bright on his recent return from shoulder surgery, but the omission of Sancho and Lingard caused more of a stir.
“With Jesse and Jadon, I mean they just aren’t playing a lot of football compared to the other players in their positions,” Southgate said.
“I know people say I’m inconsistent, but I don’t think I am. If you’re playing regularly for your club, you’ve got a much better chance of us assessing your level compared to the rest of the group.
“With these two lads, they’ve got great competition for places in the positions they play. Jesse has had 10-15 minutes. I don’t know what his form is, what his fitness is, really, to be able to assess him against the rest of the group.
“Both of those boys when I spoke with them totally understood that. They get it. They know that at the moment they’ve got to get playing for their club and playing well and then England is a bonus on the top.
“But they’re both players that have done well for us and I’m sure they’ll be back with us.”
There were some faces unlucky to miss out on the squad, with Southgate name-checking uncapped players such as Emile Smith Rowe, Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi and Tino Livramento.
Ben White would also have been hopeful of a recall after his strong showings at Arsenal.
But Southgate has stuck with Harry Maguire, John Stones, Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady as his centre-back options, despite a mixture of poor form and lack of games.
“It didn’t enter my head at all,” Southgate replied when asked if he had contemplated dropping the out-of-sorts Maguire.
“I think his experience, the level is capable of achieving, he’s obviously had to come back from an injury very quickly – needs must and…what I really admire about him he never bails out.
“I think as a professional you always respect the guys that get on with that and accept that judgement but are there for the team and I admire that he’s doing that currently.
“He’s been our best defender, he was in the UEFA Euros team. John (Stones) also hit a fantastic level through that tournament and has done since, so they’ve been our number one pair and that’s as we see them.”