Gareth Southgate willing to stake ‘reputation’ on Harry Maguire’s England selection

Gareth Southgate has backed Harry Maguire

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Gareth Southgate says he is willing to stake his “reputation” on Harry Maguire, offering the struggling Manchester United centre-half his full backing as he described him as one of England’s “best” and “most important” players, who can do things in the squad that others can’t. The international manager went so far as to describe Maguire and John Stones “as good as any in world football at” progressing up the pitch with the ball.

Such is the 29-year-old’s standing in the England squad that Southgate said he didn’t feel the need for any additional talks with him, despite being dropped from the United team. The feeling around the England camp was that Maguire would start the game against Italy at the San Siro on Friday night, and he clearly remains one of Southgate’s first-choice centre-halves. That was made pretty clear by his pre-game comments, as the England manager stressed he would be willing to stake his “reputation” on such decisions.

“Whatever reputation I have I’m putting it on there,” Southgate said. “I think, look, you always have to back your judgement and we feel he is an important player.”

“Clearly, it’s not an ideal situation,” Southgate added. “You want your best players playing regularly so that they’re physically in a good place and mentally in a good place. But he is an important player for us. I think it’s important to back our best players.

“I haven’t felt the need to speak to him any differently to the rest of the players. I try and pick up individually with them all, that’s been a bit more complicated this time because we’ve got 28 so I’m getting there! Look, he understands that he’s at a big club, big transfer fee and captain of the club so I think that’s why the spotlight has been on him more. But he’s got to and is focused on training well every day and getting himself back in the team.”

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There was a hint of a wider issue in Southgate’s answers, as he acknowledged how England don’t currently have centre-halves with sufficient quality to step right in.

“If we thought there were experienced players ready to step in and play at a level above him there would be a different consideration and in some positions there would be a different level of competition in that way.

“He is our most dominant aerial centre-back. Him and John are incredible with the ball really – the amount of pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments we have played because we don’t always have that midfield pivot player who can progress the game. It means there is a huge amount more pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well and those two are as good as any in world football at doing that.”

Southgate also admitted that the situation could change if a number of players continue to get limited minutes in the Premier League over the time left until the World Cup.

“The squad we’ve picked, there are a fair number of players you could argue we could have left out at this point but I think we wanted to keep that group together and to keep them involved, keep them feeling part of it but also they know that, for some of them, that they need to be playing more regularly because now we’re only a few weeks on from pre-season so physically if they’ve had a few 90 minutes, that’s fine. Another seven-eight weeks, that does start to become more complicated.”

Southgate meanwhile revealed that he had taken influence from reading Eddie Jones’ book, ‘Leadership: Lessons from my Life in Rugby. The England rugby coach wrote of how he continued to pick Saracens players despite their relegation due to their importance to the team.

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“I’ve just been reading Eddie Jones’ book and he had a similar situation with the Saracens players and even on reflection, he felt they were his best players and although they were undercooked, they were still going to be better than players that weren’t at the level.

“They weren’t playing at the level. Because physically, the rugby, if you speak to them, it’s different to football in that the physical level in the league is lower than international and then if you go down the league, it’s not really a test for your better players. So our players will actually be physically working every day with top players and they have played some European football as well.”

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