Southgate promises different England after axing Grealish and Maguire

Estimated read time 5 min read

Gareth Southgate promised a different England at Euro 2024 after ­taking the ruthless decision to drop a ­“devastated” Jack Grealish and the injured Harry Maguire from his final 26-man squad.

Grealish and Maguire were the standout omissions on a difficult day for Southgate, who said he found no joy in overseeing a process that also ended with James Trafford, Jarell Quansah, ­Jarrad Branthwaite, James Maddison and Curtis Jones being culled from the 33-man training squad.

But while there was heartache for the seven players who will not be going to Germany, it was counteracted by Southgate predicting that supporters would be “captivated” by his overall selections. England’s head coach has ushered in a new wave of talent by including Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze, Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton, who made his international debut as substitute against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday, and he has not hesitated to leave out previous tournament stalwarts.

The turnover has been startling – 13 players from the 26-man squad at the 2022 World Cup are out – and Southgate had already omitted the ­experience of Raheem Sterling, ­Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips before axing ­Grealish and Maguire, whose slow recovery from a calf injury would have left him unavailable to play in central defence until after ­England’s third game in Group C against ­Slovenia on 25 June.

Yet Southgate, who has selected 12 players with no tournament experience, is excited about the feel of his squad before England host Iceland in their final warm-up matchon Friday.

“There’s some disappointment today but there’ll be a lot of excitement about players we’ve selected and to see some of the players who mean we’ve got a different look about us in terms of how we play,” he said. “I think people will be captivated by that. For some [players], they’ve had few opportunities to play at Wembley and that’s hugely exciting for them. I’m trying to conduct myself ­respectfully because of the players who have gone today. But equally I’m hugely excited about the squad.”

Maguire has 63 caps and England may lack aerial power without him, although Southgate backed Marc Guéhi to step up if the Crystal ­Palace defender starts with John Stones in the team’s opener against Serbia on 16 June. Lewis Dunk, Joe Gomez and Ezri Konsa are the other options at centre-back.

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“I think all the centre-backs in the squad are ready,” he said. “They’ve all had experience with us. Ezri has had an excellent ­season. Marc is the one that’s had more opportunities with us. We’ve seen what he can bring for a while. Look, we’ll be different. We’ll miss Harry’s aerial presence. There’s no doubt about that but there’s more speed in those guys so everybody has different attributes.

“Some smaller players can mark really well. You saw Kobbie Mainoo doing a pretty good job from corners for Manchester United in the FA Cup final, so it isn’t just about height. You can have tall guys that don’t mark well. But clearly there’s a big presence that’s going to be missing.”

Southgate explained the call on Maguire, who has been out since April, by saying that he only had room for one fitness gamble. He has nine players capable of playing at the back, including Luke Shaw, the squad’s only recognised left-back. Shaw, who has been out since ­February, has a chance of featuring in England’s ­second group game against Denmark on 20 June.

“Medicals can give us a steer in when he is likely to be back,” ­Southgate said on Maguire. “On some injuries you can plot ‘OK, if he is doing this now then in three days’ time it will be that.’ With a muscular injury like he has with his calf he has had a couple of setbacks already, so the best-case scenario was after the third group game and ­everything has to go perfectly.”

Further forward, Southgate has Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor ­Gallagher, Declan Rice, Mainoo and Wharton as midfield options. He has the speed of Jarrod Bowen, Anthony Gordon and Bukayo Saka in the wide areas, with Eze, Palmer, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham competing in attacking midfield.

Ultimately Grealish, a hugely popular figure within the group, has paid the price for a disappointing season with Manchester City. “I have just ­delivered a really difficult conversation to a lad who is devastated,” Southgate said. “I think the world of him as a kid.”

“I knew exactly last night where we were with James and didn’t want him to be hanging on and training when I knew I could tell him,” Southgate said. “I couldn’t do that with Jack until this morning.”

Southgate caused surprise by naming three strikers, with Ivan Toney and Ollie Watkins competing to deputise for Harry Kane. He acknowledged that Toney’s strong record from penalties worked in the Brentford striker’s favour.


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