England manager Gareth Southgate has backed Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland to mount a concerted challenge to Joe Hart for the national team’s No1 jersey – starting on Tuesday against France.
Butland is set to win his fifth cap in the high-profile friendly at the Stade de France, with Hart rested – though not, Southgate has insisted, because of a questionable display in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Scotland.
Burnley stopper Tom Heaton is also slated to play 45 minutes in Paris, with Butland taking over at half-time, as Southgate assesses his options between the posts against some of Europe’s most potent marksmen.
But Butland appears ahead of Heaton in the pecking order, having emerged as a serious rival to Hart before missing a year through an ankle injury suffered playing for England against Germany in March 2016.
“Jack is coming back from a long lay-off. He was our No2 before that. We think he can challenge for the No1 slot moving forward,” said Southgate.
“We’ve got good competition for places and it’s a great opportunity to look at people. “Tom [Heaton] has had an outstanding season.
“You need to give players opportunity and game time. In the past one or two goalkeepers have given up international football because they’ve not had that chance, so I’m conscious of keeping people involved.”
Southgate admitted it was a “difficult call” to omit Southampton’s Fraser Forster from the audition, but made clear that he and Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford, currently with the Under-21 squad as they prepare for the European Championships, remained in his plans.
No captaincy decision yet
The England manager also resisted calls to name a permanent captain but confirmed that Tottenham striker Harry Kane would again lead the Three Lions against France, having made a scoring – if not winning – start with the armband at Hampden Park at the weekend.
“It makes sense to keep it as it is,” he added. “I’m not committing to a timescale on appointing a permanent captain. It’s been good to develop other leaders. We’re seeing that not only in terms of responsibility, but the way the team are prepared to contribute when we’re discussing and reviewing games.”
French to pay respects to English terror victims
England beat France 2-0 in November 2015 in their last meeting, a friendly played at Wembley just days after 130 were slain by terrorists in Paris and a fixture more memorable for a poignant chorus of the French anthem, La Marseillaise, observed by both sets of fans.
French supporters are being urged to reciprocate on Tuesday evening in memory of the victims of recent attacks in London and Manchester, with the words to God Save The Queen to be shown on big screens and cards distributed for forming a giant England flag.