Gareth Southgate left Kyle Walker out of his squad for England’s upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers because he wants to use the games to develop young talents like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
England play Bulgaria at Wembley on 7 September before taking on Kosovo at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton three days later. They are already in pole position to qualify from Group A having won their opening two games back in March, thrashing Czech Republic 5-0 and Montenegro 5-1.
While Southgate insisted he is not taking the next two games lightly, he explained that the fixtures provide an opportunity to give younger players valuable experience away from a major tournament. Manchester City’s Walker is one of the most experienced England internationals available to Southgate with 48 caps, but the manager said Liverpool’s prolific creator Alexander-Arnold was ahead in the pecking order and there was little to learn from Walker sitting on the bench.
“We’ve got to give some opportunity to develop some other players,” Southgate said. “Without getting Trent’s [Alexander-Arnold] head too big, too quickly, he’s got to be one of those we look to integrate and give more opportunity to. So, it’s a bit like at a club, if we don’t make a pathway, then when are you ever going to put them in?
“With Aaron, we’ve got a completely different kind of player so we’ve got Trips [Kieran Trippier] as a bit of cover around that and there’s no point bringing Kyle in if the intention is not to start him in the games. He’s a senior player and he’ll value the rest and recovery as much as anything else.”
Southgate said he and his coaching staff had learned valuable lessons after failing to give young players opportunities to shine during qualifying for his first major tournament, the 2018 World Cup. “Probably two years ago, we waited until we had qualified and then evolved. I think during the Nations League, we did it as we were going along and we think that’s the right route to go at this moment in time.”
The manager has been decisive in moving older players out of the squad throughout his time as England manager, most notably bringing Wayne Rooney’s international career to an end, but he insisted the door is still open for Walker.
“I have not said to Kyle that that’s it. I think that it was a bit different with [Ashley] Young last year, where we recognised that we were going to have to move forward and unless we were in real difficulty, we wouldn’t go back. Kyle is not at that age, although sometimes you hear him say: ‘I’m getting old,’ even though he’s 29/30. But I think these [young] guys, I want to have a look at in games that are a good stepping stone for them.
“We know everything about Kyle really and … whilst I don’t want to give the impression that we are taking these fixtures for granted on results, but these lads are playing at a high level, week in week out and it’s a good chance to help them develop. Otherwise we’ll get to a tournament and they’ll still be stuck on two or three caps.”