Gareth Southgate said it would have shown “arrogance” to pick Reece James for the World Cup given his injury as he revealed Kyle Walker could be fit before the end of the group stages.
James was left “devastated” after getting a call from Southgate on Wednesday explaining why he had missed out on a place in his 26-man squad, the recovery from a recent knee injury meaning there was no room for him in Qatar.
The Chelsea full-back requires a longer lay-off than fellow defender Walker, who is back in training following groin surgery.
“Kyle is not back in full training yet but he’s going to be available before the end of the group stage,” Southgate said as he announced his squad during a media session at St George’s Park on Thursday.
“Of course we had to make a very difficult call with Reece, who we think is a fantastic player but he wasn’t going to be available until – if everything went perfectly – the latter stages of the tournament.
“There were too many unknowns for us on that road to recovery and also I don’t think we can take a player who is not available for the group. That would be deemed arrogant in some circles.
“But also, if everything went well and he was available, he was ready and we were picking him, then you’d be dropping him into a quarter-final after eight weeks out. That would be really demanding.
“So yes, a tough call. Kyle is a long way ahead of that and is progressing really well.”
Walker’s Manchester City team-mate Kalvin Phillips was also included in the ranks, having made a timely return from shoulder surgery off the bench in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup win over Chelsea.
England’s player of the year for 2021 has played just one minute of Premier League football this season but Southgate explained at length why there was room for the former Leeds midfielder in his squad.
“Kalvin played last night so I think with him he is free of injury, we are aware that he is not going to be able to play seven lots of 90 minutes,” he added.
“That wont be possible. We are going to have to build his fitness level. We have Declan Rice as a defensive midfielder.
“Hendo (Jordan Henderson) can play there but it is not his number one position, so we don’t have a lot of cover for that role in the country.
“Kalvin is a super player and We feel that is a risk worth taking because generally his fitness is good.”
Southgate has no players on official standby for the squad but, given there is a full round of Premier League fixtures before they meet up ahead of the World Cup, he has told some players they are first reserve should any further injuries occur.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Southgate said when asked if it would be uncomfortable watching for him this weekend.
“Watching the matches unfold, you’re always intrigued at how the tactical games are going, the performances, the results of the players of course. But we can do nothing about injuries.
“We’ve already been hit in that way. It could happen again and we’ve got to adapt. We’ve got players to come in and opportunities for others if they do come in.”