James Maddison has earned a dramatic last-minute call-up to England’s 26-man World Cup squad with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Callum Wilson, Ben White and Marcus Rashford also included.
Southgate also sprung a surprise by calling up Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher ahead of Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse.
Maddison’s only previous England appearance came as a substitute against Montenegro in November 2019 and he had not been selected since despite a fine run of form at Leicester City.
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However, after a calendar year in which Maddison has amassed 22 Premier League goal involvements — only Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne and Son Heung-Min have more — England boss Gareth Southgate has opted to include the attacking midfielder in his travelling party to Qatar.
There had been a widespread clamour for Maddison’s inclusion, with former England striker Gary Lineker claiming it would be an “absolute travesty” had he missed out, especially in light of a string of disappointing England displays in which they have failed to win any of their past six matches.
“He’s playing really well,” Southgate told a news conference at the squad announcement. “Look, he’s a good player, we’ve always said he’s a good player. He’s earned the right. We think he can give us something slightly different to the other attacking players that we’ve got. I think at various stages there have been conversations, debates about James. There have been moments where ahead of the Euros, I don’t think he was in contention, he had a bit of a problem with his hip. September was probably a fair debate but I think he’s playing as well as any of the attacking players in this country.He is a little bit different to the others. We’ve got different types of threat and we could need that.
“I did speak to James because I think this morning there was a lot of speculation that James wouldn’t be with us. We’d decided a couple of weeks ago that we would but we weren’t obviously going to go and tell him then. He was delighted. I had some very difficult calls that were emotionally at the other end of the spectrum so it was nice to give myself a little bit of an enjoyable end to that. I’m excited about going to a World Cup, it is my fourth and that is a privilege and an honour. All of those calls, the difficult ones and the really enjoyable ones, were a reminder of what it means to the players.”
The wait is over.
It’s the official #ThreeLions squad announcement for the @FIFAWorldCup! pic.twitter.com/XKJFbaDM0t
— England (@England) November 10, 2022
After Chelsea defender Reece James missed out amid concerns over his recovery from a knee injury, Alexander-Arnold and White were both chosen, the latter’s last cap coming in March.
White, who has excelled at right-back for Arsenal but can also play as a centre-back, was an unused squad member at last year’s delayed Euro 2020 finals.
Alexander-Arnold missed that tournament through injury and was a doubt for Qatar after a slump in form with Liverpool but Southgate has kept faith.
Elsewhere, Newcastle United striker Wilson and Manchester United forward Rashford were given the nod as back-up strikers to Kane at the expense of Roma’s Tammy Abraham and Brentford’s Ivan Toney.
“We wanted to make sure we got the balance of the squad right,” Southgate added. “In this day and age, squad is more important than ever. With five substitutes you can have almost half the team changed during the game. You want different options for different moments in matches and for different stages of the tournament as well.
“We’ve had to cover a couple of players that aren’t yet fully match fit so having 26 available meant we were probably able to take a couple of risks that we wouldn’t have been able to with 23. But we think the balance is there. We’re lighter on depth in some positions than. Other in our country but we think we’ve got everything covered.”
Kyle Walker (groin) and Kalvin Phillips (shoulder) were included as expected despite battling with injuries problems but there was no place for Fikayo Tomori despite playing a key role in AC Milan’s first Serie A title in 11 years and being part of England’s last two squads.
Southgate also confirmed there is an informal list of players on standby ahead of this weekend’s final round of domestic fixtures before the World Cup begins.
“We had to basically name every English player that was available on a long list,” Southgate said. “There are some conversations I’ve had with players in the last couple of days where clearly they are going to be the next ones in in their positions. But then we just don’t know what might happen in the next few days. I think there are two left-backs who got injured last night.
“We’ve got to be fluid, adaptable and ready for anything really. There’s nothing I can do about it. Watching the matches unfold, you’re always intrigued to see how the tactical games are going, the results, the form of the players of course but we can do nothing about the injuries. That’s out of our hands. We’ve already been hit and it could happen again but we’ve got to adapt and we’ve got good players to come in if we’ve lost people.”
England travel to Qatar on Tuesday and face Iran in the opening Group B match on Nov. 21.
England squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), Nick Pope (Newcastle).
Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Man City), Benjamin White (Arsenal), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Conor Coady (Everton, on loan from Wolves), Luke Shaw (Man Utd).
Midfielders: Declan Rice (West Ham), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Kalvin Phillips (Man City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Mason Mount (Chelsea).
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Callum Wilson (Newcastle), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Man City), Jack Grealish (Man City), James Maddison (Leicester City).