Southgate’s squad represents a show of faith in England’s new generation

<span>Gareth Southgate says picking so much emerging talent in his provisional 33-man squad for Euro 2024 ‘will create an evolution of the team’.</span><span>Composite: Getty</span>
Gareth Southgate says picking so much emerging talent in his provisional 33-man squad for Euro 2024 ‘will create an evolution of the team’.Composite: Getty

It is not exactly the kind of squad a manager names when he is thinking of quitting at the end of a tournament. Then again, before anyone gets ahead of themselves, it is worth pointing out there has always been a bold streak to Gareth Southgate. Those who accuse him of caution and favouritism are probably forgetting this is the England manager who ditched Joe Hart for Jordan Pickford at the 2018 World Cup and threw a 19-year-old Bukayo Saka into the team against Germany at Euro 2020.

Even so, there was a sense the latest stage of England’s evolution is upon us when Southgate named his provisional squad for Euro 2024 on Tuesday. In picking Adam Wharton, Curtis Jones, Kobbie Mainoo, Jarrad Branthwaite, Jarell Quansah, James Trafford and Anthony Gordon in the 33, Southgate will have left the Football Association wondering whether he has half an eye on the future.

Related: England’s Euro 2024 squad: Rashford and Henderson out, Wharton and Jones in

The aim is to win now. The mission is to rule Europe, not leave Germany feeling sparky before the next Nations League campaign. An outgoing manager can still pick young players – Sven-Göran Eriksson knew he was taking charge of England for the last time when he selected a 17-year-old Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup. But from the FA’s perspective, when you have a manager whose contract expires in December and you do not want to lose him, it is natural for hopes to rise when he goes to a major tournament without so many tried and trusted players.

The focus on development feels more pronounced this time. Away from the high-profile omissions – of Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson, to follow on from the phasing out of Raheem Sterling and Kalvin Phillips – it is notable nine of the 26 players who went to the 2022 World Cup are gone.

There is Eric Dier, whose form for Bayern Munich was not enough to save him from being edged out by Branthwaite and Quansah, 21‑year‑old centre-backs yet to play for their country. There is the decision to assess the uncapped Jones and Wharton in midfield. There is the inclusion of Mainoo, the 19-year-old midfielder who starred in the friendly draw with Belgium in December. There is the freshness of picking the creative brilliance of Cole Palmer and Eberechi Eze, along with the relentless dribbling of Gordon.

Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, James Trafford.

Defenders: Jarrad Branthwaite, Lewis Dunk, Joe Gomez, Marc Guéhi, Ezri Konsa, Harry Maguire, Jarell Quansah, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker.

Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher, Curtis Jones, Kobbie Mainoo, Declan Rice, Adam Wharton.

Forwards: Jude Bellingham, Jarrod Bowen, Eberechi Eze, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Anthony Gordon, Harry Kane, James Maddison, Cole Palmer, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney, Ollie Watkins.

“We have always tried to find room for emerging players,” Southgate said. “I know people have always said we have got our favourites, but the fact is we have got players who we knew were the best in their position and were able to deliver at a high level. But circumstances change. Kalvin’s season, for example, means who are the best midfielders at this time? They are young ones with a different sort of profile. That will create an evolution of the team.”

Southgate played down the inexperience. Five players are uncapped and only 16 of the 33 have made more than 10 appearances for England. “We’ve got to pick the players that we think at the moment are the best ones to take the team forward,” he said.

All the way to the 2026 World Cup? “I always use Arsène Wenger’s quote to me on this: ‘You must always manage as if you’re going to be there for ever but in the knowledge that you could be sacked the following day,’” said Southgate.

Related: Adam Wharton’s England call-up is a credit to Palace’s progression

The messaging was as measured as ever from Southgate, who almost walked away after losing to France in Qatar. He is not giving anything away yet. He is too busy worrying about the lack of English midfielders at the highest level and his injury problems in defence. Luke Shaw, who has not played since February, is the only specialist left-back in the squad. Dropping Ben Chilwell is a gamble. Much depends on Shaw recovering in time; Southgate does not sound optimistic and he knows the balance of the team will be affected if the right-footed Kieran Trippier has to start on the left.

Southgate warned there would not be a “procession” to the final. The attack is heavily stacked, but England have to find out more about the youngsters. Southgate is intrigued by Jones, who was having a good season for Liverpool before being disrupted by injury. He has been won over by the elegance of Wharton, who was playing in the Championship before joining Crystal Palace in February.

Admittedly, Wharton will probably be among the seven players cut when the final 26 is named before 8 June. Southgate will face calls to cram his team with attackers, to have Palmer combine with Phil Foden, Saka and Jude Bellingham, but it will probably be the reassuring energy of Conor Gallagher or the inventive passing of Trent Alexander-Arnold next to Declan Rice. Palmer may be this year’s Jack Grealish: the reserve attacker who everyone wants to start.

It could end up being the same old England formula: fans moaning about too many defensive midfielders, unfit players struggling to last the pace. They may lose to the first good team they play. Southgate could quit, either in victory or defeat. This is a flawed squad, but an exciting one with a modern feel and a supply of youthful hope that would make any manager think about future possibilities.