Gareth Southgate insists Raheem Sterling and Ben White’s ongoing England exiles are purely due to football and the “door is open” for both players to resume their international careers for Euro 2024.
The Three Lions boss on Thursday announced a 25-man squad for the upcoming qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia which have already booked their place at next summer’s finals in Germany. Sterling and White were left out for the fifth time in a row and neither player has featured since leaving England’s World Cup base in difficult circumstances at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
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Sterling flew to London after the robbery at his Surrey home but returned a day before England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to France, during which he was a 79th-minute substitute.
White left the camp after the group stage for what the Football Association described at the time as “personal reasons” but has not been selected since, despite starring in an Arsenal side that led Manchester City to the Premier League title last year.
Sterling has collected 82 caps and started every knockout game of the tournament under Southgate until England’s round-of-16 game in Qatar against Senegal. Southgate said: “The door is 100% open, not just for Rahim, but for other players who are not in this team. There is no doubt about it.
“We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He’s been an important part of the journey we’ve been on over the last few years. I can only repeat what I said last time. A few squad selection meetings. The team is playing really well. We played Italy last time. Had an exceptional win against. Who do we leave out to make the squad? It’s as simple as that really.
“We’ve pretty much stuck with that group through this qualifying campaign. We deliberately didn’t make too many changes because we felt it was fair to the guys in the squad.
“The performance has been great. There is huge competition for places. There is no question Rahim looks dangerous for his club. He has looked motivated since the start of this season.
“As I said, there are players who are not in this squad — either they are injured or the door is wide open. We will always be open to that. There are players in this squad who have missed a big part. Time — Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier — we’ve had situations like this often.”
Asked if White was available for selection, Southgate said: “I assume so. Ben is too tough for Arsenal. He is a different profile of a full-back. He is really a centre-back playing at full-back. He is doing well. But for his club he’s behind a few others in our reckoning. [there are no lingering issues from the World Cup]. We have Kyle, Kieran, Trent [Alexander-Arnold], we got Reese James. A number of good youngsters are coming up. We are on a good run. The defense is playing well, that’s why we are here.”
Southgate revealed he wanted to call up James but “didn’t think he was quite ready” after the Chelsea defender recently returned to action following a hamstring injury, while Callum Wilson, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Jude Bellingham were all selected despite injuries. Intimidation at the club level.
“We could lose one today after a scan, we could lose one tomorrow,” Southgate said. “We don’t really know. You’d be surprised how complicated it is to pick a squad. All clubs are sensitive to information and you’re trying to piece everything together.”
“So, I can’t be sure that everyone in that squad will be there on Sunday night. Different levels of doubt. Callum Wilson is probably the biggest doubt. But equally, I’m pretty confident that the others will come through. They’re all keen to be in the squad and that’s a really good sign.”
Southgate is out of contract next December but insisted he was relaxed about his future.
“I think any manager who is thinking beyond seven months is in a really privileged position,” he said. “I’m very excited about the tournament. We’re really preparing for the next tournament and I think in international football everyone lives from tournament to tournament so for me, I’m really comfortable with the position.
“I love working with this team, I love working with the staff that work around the team. We’re looking forward to the next few months.”
Asked if he had considered the possibility of reaching a decade in charge by surviving the 2026 World Cup, Southgate added: “I haven’t even thought about it at all. The last time we played here in Malta, I found out I took the team into camp four days ago.
“Most of the things I’ve done in my life since I finished playing, I didn’t know anything until a few days before they happened. I’m not someone who doesn’t have a plan in mind about what my career will be.” Let’s enjoy what we’re doing, try and do as much as possible and get cracking with it.
“But I’m not just interested in adding games or adding years. It’s about being our best team and taking on those challenges. I’m not just here to collect caps.
“It’s about doing the job, what I can do, being excited by it, motivating the players, the level of performance we’ve had for six or seven years.” We’ve been in the top five for the last five years. This year it’s good consistent performances and results, that will indicate that. I’m not really thinking about it.”