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Gareth Southgate Takes Leap of Faith With England Boys’ Brigade

Gareth Southgate Takes Leap of Faith With England Boys’ Brigade

Friday, 12 October, 2018 - 08:00
L-R: Mason Mount has impressed at Derby on loan from Chelsea, James Maddison has been influential for Leicester and Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho has the most assists in Europe’s top five leagues. Composite: Rex/Getty Images
London- Stuart James
It seemed fitting in many ways that on the day when Gareth Southgate signed a contract to extend his tenure through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the England manager named a squad who also provided a glimpse into the future. There were first call-ups for Mason Mount and James Maddison but it was the name of Jadon Sancho, and in particular the Borussia Dortmund forward’s date of birth, that jumped out of the sheets of paper handed out at St George’s Park on Thursday.

Aged 18, Sancho is the first player to be born this millennium to be called up by England, which says much for his precocious talent but is also a sign of the direction Southgate is taking the national team. Only one of the 25 players named for the Nations League games against Croatia and Spain was born in the 1980s – Southampton’s Alex McCarthy – while the inclusion of Sancho and Mount alongside Trent Alexander‑Arnold means there are three teenagers in the squad.

Although injuries have limited Southgate’s options, the England manager was quick to point out he could easily have “gone with some guys who have had good Premier League careers, who are 26 or 27”. The alternative represents a leap of faith in some respects but was much more appealing to Southgate.

Sancho is the head-turner – and not just because of his age. The Londoner is the only member of the squad who plays overseas, and the decision he made to swap Manchester City for Dortmund last year, in search of regular first-team football, is looking better and better by the day. He signed a five-year contract with Dortmund on Tuesday, on the back of creating seven goals in the Bundesliga already this season, and has started both the club’s games in the Champions League – something Southgate views as hugely significant.

“There was a stat around Champions League appearances for nationalities and how it is correlated to success at senior international level,” Southgate said. “So to have a player starting in the Champions League is of importance to us. His decision to move [abroad] tells you something about his character and you can see that in the way he plays – he has tremendous belief in himself. He has presence, pace, and he’s showing good decision-making with his selection of passes. He’s diligent without the ball, so he is not just a player who floats around and plays when he has the ball.”

Given the growing concerns about the lack of opportunities for young players to break through in the Premier League, especially with the elite clubs, where the competition is fierce, Southgate was asked whether part of the thinking behind his decision to select Sancho was to set an example to others.

“That was not an intention with the selection but it obviously gives a message that going and playing is really important, because coaching programmes can give you a certain amount but then there is the experience of matches and high‑level matches,” he said. “You saw Harry Winks against Barcelona in a match that was a level above again, and what a brilliant way to learn. They have to be in those types of games to progress. So that message is there. The evidence is there on what we need to do. And the best way for the players to progress is to play.”

Winks is back in the England squad along with Nathaniel Chalobah and Ross Barkley, who has not represented his country since May 2016. There is no place, however, for Phil Foden, who is two months younger than Sancho and played alongside him at City. Southgate felt Mount, who has impressed while on loan at Derby from Chelsea and has been in his thoughts for some time, was a better option for England at the moment.

“I think with Phil he’s physically a bit further back than the other guys,” Southgate said. “He has not played as much men’s football. He is a little bit of a later developer in that area. It’s not so easy for him to get games at the club he is at. I totally understand that and I don’t think there is any rush for Phil. For the moment I think Mason has got a bit more experience. We don’t doubt Phil’s ability and we are as sure as you can be he’s going to be a top player.”

Mount, it is worth pointing out, is 19 years old, although age is nothing but a number for England these days. “Our preference is to look at some really exciting young ones, who’ve proved at youth level that they’re as good anything around the world,” Southgate said. “That should give us confidence that with the right development and the right opportunity, they can translate that into the senior team.”

(The Guardian)

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