Right then, here we are. It’s finally done. Gareth Southgate named his England squad for the Qatar World Cup on Thursday afternoon, and, in one fell swoop, has likely upset every single person in the country for one reason or another. (Keep a particular eye on talkSPORT, the Guinness-drinker’s answer to Loose Women, where the sheer intensity of the coming apoplexy could probably be used to fuel the Three Lions’ plane to the Middle East alone.)
Ahead of the announcement, half of Southgate’s options were on crutches. The other half have been playing like they are on crutches. The last man to shoulder as much weight as Harry Kane will have to this winter was Atlas. Optimism is low and apathy is high. This is the English way. So without further ado, shall we?
In goal, Jordan Pickford remains as Southgate’s number one. He will inevitably be one of the only English players to come out of the other side of the tournament with any kind of credit to his name, and for a month everyone will stop calling him ‘T-Rex arms’ on Twitter because it turns out he’s not bad, they’re just biased. Behind him, Aaron Ramsdale will no doubt be the happy, flappy chappie we’ve all come to love, and Nick Pope, who I once genuinely saw buy about 36 bananas in one go from the big Tesco in Gateshead, will likely be third choice. Dean Henderson and his cap are staying at home.
At right-back, Reece James’ absence sets the stage for Trent Alexander-Arnold to make the best comeback since Elon Musk’s hairline. Or for him to flounder defensively and attract the ire of an entire nation of armchair pundits. Tyneside’s answer to Cafu, Kieran Trippier, will also be there, and may even start, depending on Southgate’s feelings towards Trent at any given hour of the day. Benjamin ‘Ben’ White, the vindaloo of spice boys, has done well enough in recent weeks to earn himself a late inclusion.
On the other side of defence, Ben Chilwell’s injury means that Luke Shaw, like the final entrant in a dyslexic spelling bee, has won by default. Don’t be surprised to see Tripps pull double duty as Southgate’s covering left-back either.
In the heart of defence, England will almost certainly play with three centre-backs. Too many cooks may spoil broth, but they also pretty much guarantee that nobody can nick it from under your nose either. John Stones will be in Qatar, as will everybody’s favourite haunted wardrobe Harry Maguire, presumably, if nothing else, just for the photos of him playing with various inflatables in the pool.
The Steel City’s answer to Sonic the Hedgehog, Kyle Walker, has been battling injury recently, but is still in Southgate’s plans for the tournament, while Eric Dier, falling somewhere between the prodigal son and Mr. Bean, also gets the nod. Much to the chagrin of Calcio hipsters and Geordies everywhere, Conor Coady is included ahead of Fikayo Tomori, and Dan Burn, a man who could run a pretty respectable side hustle as an Angel of the North tribute act should the disappointment of missing out drive him away from the professional game in despair.
In midfield, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham were always absolute certainties for a call-up. In fact, this might be the latter’s last tournament before one of the top six sign him and inevitably ruin him forever, so best to make hay while the sun shines. Kalvin Phillips, despite having spent a prolonged period on the sideline with a shoulder injury, is back in the fold too. Mason Mount will feature, presumably so that Southgate doesn’t have to fork out for childcare costs while he’s away, and Jordan Henderson will travel as the designated ‘old head’. Somebody’s got to enforce bed times in the team hotel.
The biggest debate heading into Thursday, of course, surrounded James Maddison. Irrefutably deserving of his spot on merit, there were huge questions over where he would fit into Southgate’s plans, and whether or not the manager would be willing to put his faith in a relatively unproven international prospect at this late stage. For the longest time, you get the feeling that the Leicester City talisman might be this generation’s Matt Le Tissier; sublime and criminally snubbed. But alas, he is on the plane, and let’s just hope this is the sliding doors moment that means he isn’t doing the rounds on podcasts in 20 years time trying to convince us that the government are putting camera drones in pigeons, or something.
Like a curly fry in a portion of straight-cut chips, Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher also sneaks in at the last, meaning that there’s almost certainly a pantomime troupe somewhere in West London now desperately scrambling around to find an understudy who can play Prince Charming this Christmas. Handsome devil.
Up front, Harry Kane takes on a kind of ‘Ewan McGregor’s prequel Obi Wan’ role; even as everything else around threatens to unravel, you can always count on the skipper to shine through the gloom. Behind him, Callum Wilson is in, and Castore are working on an alternate Newcastle United strip tailored entirely from bubblewrap for this weekend’s clash with Chelsea as we speak. A revitalised Marcus Rashford rounds out England’s trio of recognised centre-forwards.
Tammy Abraham somehow misses out, and we can only assume that it’s because Southgate has been on 23andMe, found out he’s a direct descendant of Boudicca, and has thus developed a furious aversion to anything remotely Roman. Ivan ‘Snake Eyes’ Toney is also an unfortunate omission, and speculation will surely now mount over the extent to which his alleged gambling habits, and a subsequent and ongoing FA investigation, have impacted the manager’s decision. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and Danny Welbeck were never going. Unless they were. In which case, they would’ve. But they aren’t. So they won’t.
In wide areas, Raheem Sterling might be the only sterling that enjoys any kind of bounce this winter, and Phil Foden has a fantastic opportunity to further his claim as one of the best emerging talents in world football. Lovely lovely Bukayo Saka was always a dead cert, while Jack Grealish will already have rolled up his posters of Miggy Almiron and started packing his travel bag full of Alice bands in preparation for the trip. Expect him to take on Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s mantle from Russia as the Three Lions’ resident eye candy, and thus, your mam’s favourite player.
In less auspicious news, the ghost of Jadon Sancho clearly hasn’t moaned or wailed loudly enough of late to frighten Southgate into a sudden change of heart, while Jarrod Bowen will have to settle for watching the tournament in the company of Danny Dyer and Dani Dyer. Which, to be fair, sounds pretty decent.
And that about wraps it up. Twenty-six of England’s best boys, bidding to prove that they are 26 of the world’s best boys. Will they do it? Probably not. But do we believe they can do it regardless? Also, probably not. Still, they will have our unerring support and devotion throughout. We’ve just got to hope that they can stay in the thing long enough to give us time to get used to hearing ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Fairytale of New York’ queued back-to-back on the pub jukebox.
England’s World Cup 2022 squad in full is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton) Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (on loan at Everton from Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City) Ben White (Arsenal).
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Maddison (Leicester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)
Forwards: Marcus Rashford (Man United), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson (Newcastle).
Original story appeared on appeared on 3 Added Minutes - a new football site that goes beyond the 90 minutes of football reporting.