England manager Gareth Southgate insists he is no soft touch on injuries and that the litany of players who have declared themselves unavailable for international duty all had genuine reason to pull out.
Southgate’s preparations for Friday’s friendly against Germany and Tuesday’s with Brazil have been severely undermined by a raft of withdrawals this week, including likely starters Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson.
Harry Winks and Fabian Delph also failed to report due to injury while Danny Drinkwater declined a call-up on fitness grounds, meaning that 21-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea, is in line to make his debut against Germany.
“I’m hearing talk of club v country. It’s a nonsense. The players are injured and cannot play,” said Southgate.
“With some of the players it’s 100 per cent clear, there’s a scan. With a couple of the other lads that’ve been in, there’s ongoing injury issues. I have man-to-man discussions with them around where we are at with it, how much risk we want to take.
“Having been a player, I am not a manager who wants to just wheel players out until they break. So I don’t take risks with players. It’s their livelihood, it’s their career.’
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino unwittingly raised questions about the severity of the injuries to Kane and Winks on Wednesday when he said he was certain both would play in Spurs’ next fixture, the north London derby at Arsenal on 18 November.
But Southgate added: “I knew Harry Kane was in trouble because he stayed down [when hurt in Tottenham’s last game]. Kane doesn’t stay down, so I knew already we had a potential problem.
“Both him and Harry Winks were scanned. Both scans our medical department reviewed. No way they were available for our two games. Spurs might risk them for the game with Arsenal; that’s a different matter.”
So depleted is Southgate’s squad that he has been forced to borrow youngsters from England’s junior teams in training.
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill sat out Thursday’s session and is unlikely to face Germany, a match in which Stoke’s Jack Butland is again set to start instead of long-standing No1 Joe Hart.
The absence of so many players likely to be part of England’s World Cup squad next summer has cast doubt on the usefulness of fixtures against two high-calibre opponents ostensibly invited to replicate tournament opposition, yet Southgate insists the matches are worthwhile.
“We are going to learn a hell of a lot and I have learnt an awful lot already this week,” said the former England Under-21 coach.
“The squad I have picked is the best we have available. It’s allowing me to work with players I might not have seen. This period between qualification and the finals has to be one of an element of experimentation. If we don’t try things in these games, when are we going to learn about some of these guys for Russia?”