Gareth Southgate says he has been in contact with Trent Alexander-Arnold more than any other England player over the last three months, indicating that some of the commentary about the Liverpool right-back ahead of Euro 2020 has been misplaced.
There had been increasing expectation that Alexander-Arnold would be left out of this summer’s squad after he was dropped for the March qualifiers in what seemed abrupt fashion, and Southgate said that it was to the player’s credit that he didn’t publicly comment on their private conversations at this time. The England manager praised Alexander-Arnold’s recent performances, and said he could well play in midfield.
Southgate did add that Jack Grealish isn’t an injury doubt, but England have to get him up to full fitness, while praising Phil Foden.
“Trent is very much in contention,” Southgate said. “He has indirectly come in from some criticism at a certain time and I felt the need to communicate more with him than anyone else over the past couple of months but I think his performances have been very good. I don’t mind the criticism of my decisions, that’s part and parcel of it. But he is a young player we have got to look after and care for.
“I know when you leave a player out it feels as if that doesn’t match up but, we have communicated regularly since. I’m a little bit surprised by some of the things that have been written about that because people just don’t know those communications that have gone on. But that is credit to Trent that he has kept that to himself.
“Perhaps people didn’t like my rationale but, in my own way, I was trying to protect the player. In the end, maybe that didn’t work. When you make a decision like I’ve made, of course, there’s going to be ramifications to that. I accept that. But I didn’t want the player to suffer in any way, that’s not the relationship I’ve had with him since he was 17. We are where we are, he is a very good footballer that has never been in any doubt and he’s with us next week and we go from there.”
Southgate added that Alexander-Arnold could even play in midfield during Euro 2020. It is a positional switch that has long been mooted for the 22-year-old and gives England more variety for this summer.
“There is no doubt he could,” Southgate said. “Of course the difficulty is he hasn’t had the opportunity to do that since he was a younger player and that’s where he came through in Liverpool’s academy. He’s a fantastic passer of the ball and he has great passing vision. So he’s a playmaker from right-back, that’s kind of what he is. So why wouldn’t that lend itself at some point of his career to being in midfield? But Jurgen [Klopp] has got fantastic performances out of him in the role he has with the structure of the team the way they have so I’m sure he’s not thinking of needing to change that. These boys are outstanding footballers. They can receive under pressure, they can find passes, they can create goals. They are modern, adaptable players and they are hugely exciting to work with.”
As regards one of England’s most exciting attackers, Southgate said the challenge with Grealish now was to get him fully fit for the tournament. The Aston Villa midfielder only belatedly came back into his club side in the last few weeks of the season after a shin injury.
“I don’t see him as an injury doubt,” Southgate said. “I see a realistic view in terms of where can we get to from where he is in the space of two weeks, in terms of 90 minutes, 90 minutes, 90 minutes? We risk breaking him, you know the injury was an overload injury, we can’t overload him, so we’ve got to manage that really correctly for his welfare, as well as for performance.”
Southgate meanwhile added that getting to pick 26 players does add its own problems as more squad members on the sidelines can affect the group dynamic. He stated that the situation has “derailed” other countries in the past.
“The challenge we have actually comes now as we have to keep 15 who aren’t on the team sheet happy. And that’s impossible by the way. The dynamic of the group is something I can’t emphasise enough. It’s England first and ‘name on the back’ after because we could really fall down if we don’t get that right. The disappointment of not getting in has derailed teams in the past. I have seen it with other countries. Our boys got that right in Russia and have got that right over the last couple of years where we have had players not playing but have supported and not drained energy from the others. They have gone about their role professionally.
“We have to make sure we manage that and make sure they come away improved as a player and having learned stuff, enjoying the experience with their mates.
“When I left Japan [for the 2002 World Cup] I knew I hadn’t kicked a ball but felt I had played a part for the team. I had provided strong opposition for the forwards, I had stopped Martin Keown from kicking them as he had the hump. I had enjoyed learning about the experiences of being away. It’s difficult.
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