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Gareth Southgate insists Raheem Sterling and Ben White have been left out of another England squad purely due to football reasons, but claimed the door is not closed on either.
Southgate named a 25-man group on Thursday for this month’s Euro 2024 qualifiers with Malta and North Macedonia.
John Stones was left out after he suffered an injury in Manchester City’s midweek win over Young Boys and Eddie Nketiah was also absent with an ankle knock, but Southgate declined the chance to recall 82-capped Sterling or Arsenal’s versatile defender White.
Both players have failed to feature in an England squad since the World Cup, where White headed home early after the group stage and Sterling briefly left the camp after his family home had been burgled.
Southgate said: “The door is 100 per cent open not only for Raheem but for other players. There’s no doubt about that.
“We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He is a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the last few years.
“I can only repeat what I’ve said in the last few squad selection meetings. The team are playing really well.
“We had an exceptional win against Italy last time around. Who do we leave out to put him in? It is as simple as that really.
“He wasn’t available in March or June and the team started on a good run. We won in Italy for the first time in 60 years, the two performances in June were excellent, so we stuck with that group.
“There is no question Raheem is looking dangerous for his club, he looks invigorated since the start of the season.
I was hoping to call up Reece James, but he doesn’t feel he is quite ready and I understand that
“(But) that is an area of the pitch where we’ve probably got as much competition for places as anywhere.
“You look and Jarrod Bowen has got seven goals this season already, Anthony Gordon is playing very well at Newcastle, Cole Palmer is starting to play well. It is just a change in landscape there.”
White has played four times for England since his debut in 2021, but Southgate again pointed to the quality of personnel in the right-back area as a reason behind his continued absence.
“I assume so,” Southgate replied when asked if White was available for selection.
“Ben’s been very solid for Arsenal. He is a different profile of full-back.
“He is a centre-back playing full-back really and obviously he’s doing a good job for his club, but he’s behind others.
“We’ve got Kyle (Walker), Kieran (Trippier), we’ve got Trent (Alexander-Arnold), Reece James, so it is a position where we’ve got strength.
“There are a couple of good young ones coming through and again we’re on a good run. The defence are playing well, so that’s where we’re at.”
Chelsea captain James is fit again after a hamstring injury, but requested to be left out of the squad after it had been expected he would replace Stones.
Southgate added: “I was hoping to call up Reece James, but he doesn’t feel he is quite ready and I understand that.
“He’s had a long path back from a number of injuries and he’s cautious in that respect. I can understand why.
“I am really disappointed for John. The quality of his play is outstanding. He’s having a difficult time injury-wise at the moment, so that’ a shame to see him out.
“As you say, it gives other people an opportunity and we do need to know a little bit more about some of the players in that area of the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Southgate paid tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton, who died last month and will be honoured in England’s home fixture with Malta next week.
“I think he is respected around the world and clearly our greatest ever player when you think of not only the World Cup, but also winning the European Cup and everything he did at club level,” he reflected.
“Very sad. We were fortunate to have met him a few times and incredibly humble, so yes our condolences with all his family but hopefully we get the chance to honour him at Wembley and it will be a celebration of life because he absolutely deserves that.”
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