Like me, I’m sure there are plenty of Southampton fans out there who were left confused and frustrated (being polite) at learning of certain team news relating to the Three Lions today. Pain shared is pain halved.
There was no justifiable reason to feel this way, but the news of James Ward-Prowse not making the England squad for EURO 2020 felt inevitable.
The Southampton skipper made it to England’s provisional 33-man training camp, but was cut from the final squad along with Mason Greenwood, Ben Godfrey, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ollie Watkins and Ben White.
One recurring theme on those omissions? Apart from Greenwood, none of those players played for one of the “top” Premier League clubs last season (yes, Lingard only really played for West Ham United for half a season on loan).
Instead, England manager Gareth Southgate overlooked central midfielder Ward-Prowse, a player he supposedly holds in high regard, for a crocked Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold - a right-back who Southgate is reportedly going to turn into a makeshift midfielder in time for the tournament.
Henderson hasn’t played a minute of football since February. If the Liverpool captain’s leadership qualities are that important, bring him along in a different capacity on the sidelines like Fabio Capello did with David Beckham for the 2010 World Cup.
Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips also got the nod ahead of Ward-Prowse. I can’t admit to have watched a lot of Leeds’ Bielsa-ball this season, but I can’t see him doing anything Ward-Prowse can’t. Phillips is also said to be nursing an injury.
It’s worth remembering that Ward-Prowse was a captain for the England Under-21 team under Southgate’s management. The 26-year-old was also called up by Southgate in his last three England squads.
So what changed?
Since England’s last camp, Ward-Prowse continued to be one of Southampton’s few shining lights. He was also rightly voted as Saints’ Fans’ Player of the Season for the 2020-21 season and became the first midfielder in Premier League history to play every minute of two consecutive seasons.
This season for a bang average - if not poor - Southampton side, Ward-Prowse has led from the front. Tireless in midfield, strong in the tackle, positive in his play... Where would we have finished in the Premier League without him? This is coming from someone who hasn’t always been a believer in Ward-Prowse’s potential, by the way.
I haven’t even talked about Ward-Prowse’s obvious abilities when it comes to set pieces yet.
England’s memorable run to the semi-finals at the 2018 FIFA World Cup was aided by nine goals scored from set pieces. That’s nine goals out of 12. That’s 75%.
Set pieces play a crucial role in the way England play and succeed under Southgate, yet he still decided to leave out one of, if not the, best English set piece taker in Ward-Prowse.
That ability has contributed to the eight goals scored by Ward-Prowse last season and the seven assists he accumulated in the same period.
Southgate, who said he would have picked even more right-backs if he could (there are four in the England squad as it is) said it was tough for him to break the news to the Saints skipper.
“It was very difficult to speak with James Ward-Prowse,” he said during the England squad reveal. “I gave the players not chosen the option of going home if they wanted to, but they all wanted to stay and be part of the group. They want to be involved in these matches.”
He went on to say that Ward-Prowse could be among the cut players who feature for England in their upcoming warm-up games against Austria and Romania.
“Their commitment has been exemplary,” he added. “I had the conversations yesterday and although they were disappointed they knew where they stood. They stayed happy and relaxed.
“Being a former player, you know how you like to be treated and you can only do it as respectfully as possible. The players know where they stand but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
I don’t doubt Southgate is a decent enough guy and he has done a fairly good job for England so far, though with clarity and hindsight, his England side massively overachieved in the 2018 World Cup thanks to a favourable draw.
But what happened to the Southgate who said he would only ever pick players on form, rather than reputation?
“I never pick on reputation — form has to come into it,” Southgate said shortly after being appointed England’s full-time manager in 2017. “You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you’re expecting and select the players best suited to that.”
So what about Henderson’s form? Why is he in the team if he hasn’t played since February? Or is Southgate still looking at his form up until January?
Alexander-Arnold has had a largely poor season. At right-back. Why is he in the squad over a genuine central midfielder who has played every minute of his last 76 Premier League games without any real individual stinker performances?
Southgate is talking out of his arse and sounds as confused as his team selection looks.