Reece James has risked his Euro 2024 place, according to Gareth Southgate, by making himself unavailable for the upcoming international break. Southgate has named a 25-man squad for England’s final qualifiers and made it clear he had wanted to select James.
The 23-year-old, who was named as the Chelsea captain at the start of the season, has featured only once for England since he was ruled out of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar because of injury, against Italy in March. It has been a similar story for Chelsea after he damaged a hamstring on the opening weekend of the season. He has only just come back, making four appearances over the past three weeks – and not yet completing 90 minutes.
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Southgate stressed that he understood James’s desire to be cautious about the management of his return to peak fitness and stand down from games against Malta at Wembley next Friday and in North Macedonia three days later. England have qualified for the finals in Germany and are chasing victories to ensure top-seed status for the draw on 2 December.
Yet Southgate and James are equally conscious there is only one further international get-together in March before squads must be submitted for the finals and that there is intense competition at right-back – from Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold. “There is and that’s the risk,” Southgate said. “He’s only got one more squad before the Euros. So he knows that. We’ve got belief in what he can do.”
Southgate, who said he had had a “really good long conversation” with James, was asked whether the risk factor had been mentioned in it. “Yeah … I think it’s implicit anyway, isn’t it?” he said. “And he completely understands it. He has only really been able to be with us in March for the first part of the camp. But that’s been because he keeps having these moments where he breaks down.”
Southgate said that he and the FA knew that James was not “100%” fit. He added: “There is a reality around his training at the moment [which] is he’s playing, [then] there’s a couple of days recovery … So I understand, given where he’s been with injuries, there’s a little bit more angst, if you like, from his side.”
Goalkeepers Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Marc Guéhi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayo Tomori (Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (Arsenal)
Forwards Jarrod Bowen (West Ham) Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa), Callum Wilson (Newcastle)
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The manager also said he was comfortable with James’s decision not to report next week for meetings and to reconnect with the squad. Recent England camps have been notable for the number of injured players who have come along regardless for a couple of days; the team spirit is a massive part of what Southgate has built. “We did discuss that and Reece was very keen to make clear: ‘Look, I don’t want you to think I don’t want to be there,’” Southgate said.
Fitness issues were a talking point, as Southgate called up four players who are carrying knocks – Callum Wilson, James Maddison, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham. Wilson’s recall has squeezed out Eddie Nketiah, although Southgate said Wilson was the biggest doubt of the quartet. “I am pretty confident the others can get through,” he said, which represented an encouraging update on Maddison in particular.
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Reece James’s Chelsea teammate Raheem Sterling was again overlooked by Gareth Southgate. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA
Tottenham fans have fretted since Maddison was taken off with an ankle problem in Monday’s home loss to Chelsea. “He seems positive,” Southgate said. “There’s clearly an element of doubt. But I think at the time of the decision [by Ange Postecoglou to substitute him], they had just gone down to 10 men and maybe the manager was thinking: ‘I’ve got a player who might have a knock and we’ve only got 10 players anyway.’”
Southgate made minimal changes from his previous squad – apart from Wilson for Ntekiah, the only difference was the absence of the injured John Stones. Again there was no room for Raheem Sterling or Mason Mount. Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell are still injured so there is again no specialist left-back. It is often interesting to hear Southgate namecheck other players in his thoughts; he mentioned Nick Pope, James Trafford, Tino Livramento, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ivan Toney.
Southgate had a warning for Aaron Ramsdale, who he called up despite the goalkeeper having lost his place at Arsenal. Ramsdale has made only two appearances since he started England’s win over Scotland on 12 September – each in the Carabao Cup.
“There is a reality as a keeper,” Southgate said, with a nod towards his squad for the Euro finals. “If we get to March and he’s six months without playing regularly, then I’m never going to promise things that I couldn’t guarantee delivering. He’s perfectly realistic about that.”