Gareth Southgate is deeply concerned English players are not getting enough opportunities in the Premier League and has called for a fresh “debate” to tackle a long-running problem after warning the country risks losing some of its brightest young talent unless there are more ways to break through at first-team level.
Speaking on the day he announced his first squad since the World Cup finals, Southgate said England were “on a path of diminishing numbers” when it comes to players getting game time in the Premier League this season and described the situation at the established top-six clubs as a “real concern”.
With statistics to back up his argument, Southgate cited the fact only 30% of the players who started in the Premier League last weekend were English, compared with an average of 33.2% across the whole of last season. The figures make for even bleaker reading at the top-six clubs where English players account for only 19.2% of those who have started in all three Premier League matches this season.
“One of the biggest concerns is playing time for English players – that is shown by a number of the squad who came with us in Russia not getting opportunities,” Southgate said. “More of a concern is the young players who might be coming through to challenge that are not getting an opportunity to play. With the top-six teams we are on a graph which is a real concern with the decreasing number of English players. It’s not that the talent isn’t there – we have shown with the under-17 world champions, under-20 world champions and at the senior World Cup, there are good English players there. We have some very exciting young players that, if we’re not careful, we’ll lose without those opportunities.”
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jack Butland (Stoke City), Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Alex McCarthy (Southampton), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).
There had been suggestions that Southgate, who has recalled Luke Shaw at the expense of Ashley Young, could give Phil Foden, Manchester City’s 18-year-old midfielder, a first opportunity at senior level. Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, who is the same age as Foden, was also viewed as a possibility.
Yet Southgate resisted any temptation to pick either teenager and said that young players generally needed to do far more to earn an England cap. “What have they done to warrant an England senior call-up?” said the England manager, when asked about the absence of any “kids” in the 23-man squad for next month’s fixtures against Spain and Switzerland.
“We’re as excited by them as anyone else but given the profile of some of those lads at the moment we’ve got to be really careful. I think those guys have got a good mentality and can cope with most things but there are issues. How much are they going to play for their clubs? So if I’m going to elevate them internationally, I have to ask is that realistic?”
Southgate added: “It should be harder [to be called up]. It’s been too easy to get into the England squad for some of the youngsters over the last 12, 24 and 36 months. They’ve gone in and done brilliantly but what you want is real competition that makes it really hard to get in. It’s very difficult to pick a 17-year-old who’s had 10 minutes of first-team football.”
The problem for Southgate is some of his more experienced players have found themselves in a similar position this season. Danny Welbeck and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have made only one substitute appearance for Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, while Danny Rose has yet to play 90 minutes for Tottenham.
There is an argument Chelsea’s Ross Barkley, Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, all of whom have played more frequently for their clubs this season, deserved to be called up in their place. However, with the exception of Young, who at 33 was the oldest member of England’s World Cup squad, Southgate felt it was important to stay loyal to the players he took to Russia. There was a warning, though, things will need to change when it comes to playing time.
“I did not think to jettison a group who got to the semi-final would be fair,” Southgate said. “But next month and the months coming, we will have to take a view on that because we will be going into matches where fitness levels are important and form will be key.”
As well as bringing Shaw back into the fold, Southgate has called Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana, James Tarkowski and Alex McCarthy into the squad, replacing Jamie Vardy and Gary Cahill, who have all but retired from international football, and Phil Jones and Nick Pope, who are injured.
The manager also mentioned a number of younger players he is keeping an eye on, including Leicester’s James Maddison and Ben Chilwell, Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah, Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon and, interestingly, Mason Mount, who is on loan at Derby from Chelsea.