Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate insists he is not gambling with England’s chances of success despite this week naming a World Cup squad with limited tournament experience.
Only five – Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Gary Cahill – of those named in the 23-man travelling party for Russia featured for England in Brazil four years ago.
Southgate, however, has denied that represents anything other than a prime opportunity for a squad with an average age of 25, and he points to a lack of baggage from failures past as potentially beneficial.
“I don’t see it as a gamble and I don’t think being free of inhibition is gambling,” said Southgate, whose side play their opening match of the tournament against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June.
“We think this is the best group of players available, we think they can be very exciting now and even more exciting in the future. I don’t want to limit what they think is possible because they’re young and hungry and want to have a go.
“We know usually teams that win tournaments have a lot more caps than we do, a lot more experience of semi-finals and finals. We talk a lot about experience, but if that experience is not a good one, that can damage people’s thinking.
“Sometimes the bad experience can be one where you suddenly realise: ‘Actually, what is there to lose?’ Allowing these players to grow and fulfil their potential is the right thing to do.”
The selection of uncapped teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has played an integral role for Liverpool on their way to the Champions League final, typifies Southgate’s show of faith in youth.
“Alexander-Arnold’s performances have been excellent,” added Southgate. “He’s shown, in games of real pressure, the personality and the ability to cope with that. He’s had an extended run in a team where the expectation is high.”
England’s inexperience is most obvious in the goalkeeper department with Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope having just nine caps between them, while senior stopper Joe Hart has been left out completely.
“They are the best three English goalkeepers in the league,” added Southgate. “We are not picking young players because they are young and we are trying to buy ourselves time.
“We believe they are the best in their positions for the way we want to play. With the goalkeepers, they have been the best three.”
With regards to Hart, for whom Russia would have been his fifth tournament finals, and his prospects of adding to his 75 caps in future, Southgate said: “I pick players on form and if he’s playing well for his club, why wouldn’t we select him? There’s no reason for this to be the end. He has an important career decision this summer and I hope he can be back at his very best.”
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was another player Southgate opted to overlook, having been called up for friendlies in March against Holland and Italy, only to withdraw through injury. The 26-year-old last played for England at Euro 2016.
“Jack has of course been in our thoughts. We selected him in March but he hasn’t played a game for us. He has had a good spell but was maybe not as effective towards the end of the season,” added Southgate.
Wilshere, however, hit back, saying: “I’ve felt fit, sharp and strong all season and believe I should be in the squad. And given the chance, I could have made a real impact.”