Southgate: James Maddison ‘earned right’ to be in adaptable England World Cup squad
England manager Gareth Southgate insists James Maddison has earned the right to gatecrash a World Cup in which he has placed the emphasis firmly on flexibility.
Newcastle striker Callum Wilson and Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher were also notable inclusions in Southgate’s party for this month’s tournament in Qatar, named yesterday.
But Leicester No10 Maddison was the biggest surprise in the 26-man squad, having been overlooked by England since making his debut three years ago.
“He’s playing really well. He’s a good player – we’ve always said that. He’s earned the right,” said Southgate.
“I think he’s playing as well as any of the attacking players in this country. We’ve got different types of threat and I think we could need that.”
Southgate rejected suggestions he had previously omitted Maddison for visiting a casino after withdrawing from an England squad in October 2019, and praised rare qualities which have brought the 25-year-old six goals and four assists in 12 Premier League games this season.
“He’s always been up against some really good players in that area of the pitch,” he said. “But he’s playing exceptionally well.
“We like the fact he finds pockets of space. He plays forward, his set-play delivery is outstanding, and he can score goals from distance which, against low block defending, is another attribute which is a little bit different from some of our other players.”
Southgate hinted Maddison could play on the right of England’s attack and stressed the need for tactical flexibility and squad cohesion at a unique mid-season World Cup, which kicks off on 20 November.
“We’re excited by the group. We think there’s a lot of exciting talent within it. But the whole group have to come together,” he said.
“It’s a unique situation for everyone, this tournament, and the obstacles just to get to this point, medically as much as anything. We’ve got to adapt better than everybody else.”
Southgate has, as expected, kept faith with trusted players such as Harry Maguire, Eric Dier, Conor Coady, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, despite form that has been patchy or worse.
Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker are also included, even though the former only returned from a long injury lay-off this week and the latter has been ruled out until later in the group stage.
In-form Wilson got the nod over Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney, while Conor Gallagher edged out James Ward-Prowse.
But with a final weekend of domestic fixtures before England travel to Qatar on Tuesday, Southgate warned that last-minute replacement might be needed.
“Clearly we don’t know what might happen in the next few days,” he said. “We’ve got to be fluid, adaptable and ready for anything.”
Southgate also said England would not be silenced on human rights issues, despite governing body Fifa urging teams to avoid political or ethical matters.
“We’ve always spoken about issues that we think should be talked about, particularly the ones we feel we can affect,” he said.
On LGBTQ questions specifically, he added: “We stand for inclusivity and we’re very strong on that. We think that’s important for all our supporters and we understand the challenges that this tournament brings within that.
“If it wasn’t for the strength of that community we wouldn’t be women’s European champions, so it’s very important to us.”