England snub Sterling again, insist ‘door is open’


Gareth Southgate insists the ongoing England exiles of Raheem Sterling and Ben White are based purely on footballing reasons and the “door is open” for both players to revive their international careers in time for Euro 2024.

The Three Lions boss named a 25-man squad on Thursday for upcoming qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia having already booked their place at next summer’s finals in Germany. Sterling and White were omitted for the fifth consecutive time and neither player has featured since leaving England’s World Cup base in difficult circumstances during last year’s Qatar World Cup.

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Sterling flew to London after a robbery at his Surrey home but returned a day before England’s World Cup quarterfinal defeat against France, during which he was a 79th-minute substitute.

White left the camp early after the group stage due to what the Football Association described at the time as “personal reasons” but has not been selected since, despite excelling in an Arsenal side which pushed Manchester City close to the Premier League title last year.

Sterling has amassed 82 caps and had started every tournament knockout game under Southgate until England’s round-of-16 game in Qatar against Senegal. Southgate said: “The door is 100% open, not only for Raheem but for other players not in this squad. There’s no doubt about that.

“We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He is a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the last few years. I can only repeat what I’ve said in the last few squad selection meetings. The team are playing really well. We had an exceptional win against Italy last time around. Who do we leave out to put him in? It is as simple as that really.

“We’ve stuck with that group pretty much through this qualifying campaign. We’ve deliberately not made many changes because we felt that’s been fair to the guys who have been in the squad.

“Performances have been excellent. There is huge competition for places. There is no question Raheem is looking dangerous for his club. He looks invigorated since the start of this season.

“As I said, there are a few players who aren’t in this squad — either they are injured or the door is absolutely open. We will always be open to that. There are players in this squad who missed quite big chunks of time — Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier — we’ve often had that type of situation.”

Asked whether White was available for selection, Southgate said: “I assume so. Ben’s been very solid for Arsenal. He is a different profile of full-back. He’s a centre-back playing at full-back really. He’s doing a good job for his club but he’s just behind a couple of others in our reckoning. No, [there are no lingering issues from the World Cup]. We’ve got Kyle, Kieran, Trent [Alexander-Arnold], we’ve got Reece James. There’s a couple of good young ones coming through. We are on a good run. The defence are playing well so that’s where we are.”

Southgate revealed he wanted to call up James but the Chelsea defender “didn’t feel he was quite ready” after only recently returning to action following a hamstring injury, while Callum Wilson, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Jude Bellingham were all selected despite injury scares at club level.

“We could lose one today after a scan, we could lose one tomorrow,” said Southgate. “We don’t really know. You’d be amazed at how complicated it is picking a squad. All clubs are sensitive to information and you are trying to piece everything together.

“So, I couldn’t be certain that everybody in that squad will be there on Sunday night. Varying levels of doubt. Probably Callum Wilson is the biggest doubt. But equally, I am pretty confident the others can get through. They are all keen to be in the squad and that’s a really good sign.”

Southgate is out of contract next December but insisted he was relaxed about his future.

“I think any manager who is thinking beyond seven months is in a privileged position really,” he said. “I’m super excited about the tournament. We’re really gearing towards the next tournament and I think everybody in international football is living from tournament to tournament so for me, I’m really comfortable with the position.

“I’m loving working with this team, I’m loving working with the staff that work around the team as well. We’re looking forward to the next few months.”

Pushed on whether he had considered the possibility of reaching a decade in charge by staying on to the 2026 World Cup, Southgate added: “I’ve not even thought about it at all. The last time we played Malta here, I found out I was taking the team four days before the camp.

“Most things I’ve done in my life since finishing playing, I didn’t know anything about until a few days before they happened. I’m not one who has ever sort of had a plan in my mind of what my career would be. Let’s just enjoy what we’re doing, try and do it as well as we can and crack on with it.

“But I’m not interested in just racking up games or racking up years. It’s about being the best team we can be and taking on those challenges. I’m not just here to collect caps.

“It is about doing the job as well as I can, being excited by it, motivating the players, having the level of performance we’ve had for six or seven years. “We’ve been in the top five for the last five years. That’s good consistent performances and results, that would indicate. I’m genuinely not thinking about it.”



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