Gareth Southgate has admitted he might have made a mistake in not picking Ross Barkley in his England Under-21s squad that finished bottom of their group with defeat to Italy on Wednesday, and was eliminated from the European Championship.
Barkley, 21, was one of five eligible players who Southgate chose not to select – along with Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – on the basis that they were already established in the senior team. Barkley was a second-half substitute in the senior England team’s post-season friendly against Republic of Ireland but did not figure in the Euro 2016 qualifying win over Slovenia.
Since the end of the season, Barkley has posted pictures of himself on holiday in Ibiza with friends while the Under-21s tournament in the Czech Republic has been in progress, prompting questions as to why the player, who has 13 senior caps, was not asked to step back down after an indifferent season with Everton.
Asked why Barkley had not been summoned back to the Under-21s, Southgate said it was “a fair question” and that he hesitated to do so mainly because Barkley had not played in any of the Euro 2015 qualifiers, playing only once for the Under-21s in the last four years.
“It’s absolutely a fair question and something we’ll have to look at again as a group of national coaches,” Southgate said. “I still think with Wilshere, Jones, Oxlade-Chamberlain, that was the right decision [to omit them] because they’ve never kicked a ball with this group. They’ve had senior tournament experience.
“The only player in this tournament that goes against that debate is William Carvalho [of Portugal]. Everybody else has gone [down]the route we have. We brought five back from the seniors. Unfortunately we lost three of them, Luke [Shaw] and Saido [Berahino] and [John] Stones for the first two games.”
He added: “Ross is one we’ve got to think about. I still think it’s not clear because he hadn’t kicked a ball with me for 20 months. So to bring him into the group isn’t something that would necessarily have worked. Carvalho had played in qualifiers for Portugal, that’s why he came back into the group. For his [Barkley’s] development, would it have been something good?
“An Under-21 finals is a high quality field. The policy generally is something I’m comfortable with because we expose this next group now.”
The decision to leave the five players behind attracted controversy, although other countries did the same with high-profile eligible players. Germany chose not to take Mario Götze and Julian Draxler. Italy left out Marco Verratti.
One of those brought back from the seniors, Calum Chambers, failed to play a single minute, although Southgate said he would be a key figure in the 2017 qualifying campaign. “At the minute, we have not had much opportunity to work with Calum, but next year he becomes one of the leaders of the group,” Southgate said.
He said Eric Dier would come back into contention as well as Tottenham signing Delle Ali. Nine in the squad will be eligible for the next championships.