Gareth Southgate has painted a bleak picture about England’s talent pool, fearing the numbers he will be able to choose from will continue to dwindle and affect his selection.
About 32 per cent of Premier League starters qualify for England and Southgate is concerned about the long-term effect on the national team.
“The numbers are the numbers. They are not going up,” he said.
“It was about 32 percent, but that’s less than 35 percent when I took over and 38 percent in the years before, so the graph is clear – there’s no arguing with that.
“Twenty-eight percent have happened over a few weekends in recent weeks.
“It gets more complicated (to succeed). What’s the best way to judge our players? The Champions League.
“If you look at this year’s Champions League minutes, we’re sixth on that list – we’re actually behind Brazil and Portugal.
“If breaking through the team is the basis, then the Champions League and the higher echelons of the Premier League is the finishing school. The rest of Europe gets its base in their own national leagues and then the cream of the crop is sold around the five major leagues and they get graduation at the end.
“At the moment we are way behind France and Spain in those numbers and it’s really interesting that Brazil, which clearly has a very strong national league, now has just as many players playing in the Champions League – or more than we do.”
Data shows that the figures of players eligible to play for England in the Premier League are in line with the five-year average of 32 per cent, with the figure of 28 per cent representing only the lowest gameweek starters for this season.
The playing time of English players at the six big clubs has also been around 27 percent over the past four seasons, 16 percent higher than the average of the previous four seasons.
“I think it won’t necessarily affect us for the next 18 months, but if there’s 66 players a week, it does mean you have to add what that means positionally as well,” added Southgate.
“I think we have four left-footed left-backs in the league at the moment, so we’ll have to look in the Championship or elsewhere.”
Southgate: Impossible to choose players by form
Southgate says it is “impossible” to pick players based on form alone for England after naming Kalvin Phillips and Harry Maguire in his latest squad.
The Manchester duo have played just 238 minutes since the start of 2023, the equivalent of less than three full games between them in the Premier League.
But England’s regulars have retained their place in Southgate’s senior squad since the World Cup, with the likes of AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse not included, as well as the Brighton duo of Lewis Dunk and Solly March.
After being appointed permanent England manager in 2017, Southgate said he would “never choose reputation, form has to come in”.
But he has now rowed back on those comments when asked about the continued inclusion of some players who did not play for their clubs – saying he still believes England’s player pool is “deficient in depth” in some areas.
“It’s impossible [to just pick players who are playing]”We have to pick our best players whenever possible, and then there’s a balance between choosing a certain level of player who doesn’t play as regularly, or one who is physically fit and doing well.
“It’s interesting to talk to other national team coaches that they feel the same way, and have the same feeling about choosing your best players, as long as they can reach a reasonable physical level.
“That’s what we’re into, really. You’d like to have that depth, but we’re smaller than the other major nations in terms of selection. I’m happy with the quality we get to pick from, but in certain positions we’re coming up against the depth too short.
“Those numbers are declining rapidly in the Premier League. I don’t care for the next 18 months, but in four or five years we have to be very careful about that.”
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Southgate did have credit for March and Dunk, who catapulted Brighton to within two points of fifth-place Newcastle, and still inside with an outside shot of Champions League qualification.
Dunk’s only cap for England came in a friendly with the USA in November 2018, while March, who has scored three goals in his last five games, made five appearances for Southgate’s U21 side earlier in his career.
“They are playing very well, their club is playing exceptionally well,” said Southgate. “The coach is doing a great job, he makes the team play in a unique style in our league.
“They’re having an excellent season as a club. Solly, we had in the U21s with us, he’s a player we know well. But at the moment I don’t see him before Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, at those positions on the field.
“It’s tough decisions, but we’re monitoring everyone regularly, either live or on our system during the week.
“There is not a game we miss, and we know there are some players who are playing well for their clubs, but I have to choose the team and squad that I think will give us the best chance to win in the next two really big games.” upwards.
“Experience is part of that. We’re going to Naples and playing against Italy, they’re a top team. It’s a different kind of environment and you have to get that balance of experience for those kinds of games.”
The full England squad…
keepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale
Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Marc Guehi, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker
midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice
Forward: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney
Southgate is not worried about the location in Naples
Meanwhile, Southgate is not worried about safety ahead of opening next week’s Euro 2024 qualifier with Italy in Naples.
There were clashes between fans of Napoli and Eintracht Frankfurt before and after their Champions League tie on Wednesday, which the hosts won 5-0.
“Ultimately it’s up to the Italian Football Federation to decide where to play their matches,” he said. “It is clear that our organization will always try to make the travel experience for our fans as smooth as possible and that is important.
“From a personal perspective, to go to such a famous football city and to have grown up watching Maradona win the title there and in a year where they seem to be doing it again, I look forward to the football experience of being there. I have to focus on the parts I can control.”
Ivan Toney: more than a Kane substitute for England?
On the eve of Brentford’s first Premier League game in August 2021, Thomas Frank made a promise about Ivan Toney.
“He has all the capabilities,” said the Brentford manager. “His combination play, his finishing, timing in the box and awareness, so I’m sure he’s going to score goals in the Premier League.”
The goals have certainly been there. Twelve last season, 16 this season with a dozen games left.
But it is the clutch that has been a key factor in Brentford’s success this season. It led Jamie Carragher to describe him as “one of the best attacking players in the league”, “an all round footballer” and “reminiscent of Harry Kane”.
That last point is particularly poignant given the announcement of England’s squad on Thursday. Despite a betting scandal hanging over the Brentford striker, Gareth Southgate has decided that Toney not only fits into this English batting division, but can also bring something extra.