When Gareth Southgate named his first England squad of this World Cup year for the forthcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy there were a few surprise omissions – Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Danny Drinkwater among them – but the inclusion that stood out was that of Jake Livermore.
The midfielder has not been enjoying the best of seasons at West Bromwich Albion, where he has not always been a regular starter, and thanks to Twitter we know Alan Shearer for one thought Jonjo Shelvey has made a more pressing case for selection. Yet Southgate is the loyal type, perfectly willing to defend his decision in a way that reveals a lot about his thought processes for Russia this summer.
“Jake has been having a tough time at his club but it is very straightforward for me,” the England manager said. “We’ve played Jake in several matches and he’s done a job for the team. In November we left him out and he was just about to board a plane for a holiday when we called him back at the last moment, because we had had a few withdrawals. He left his family at the airport, came to join us and did really well against Brazil and Germany. I think that has to carry some weight when you are building the spirit and culture around your team.
“That doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to go to Russia in the summer, but I think it justifies him staying in our squad. We are looking to build a spirit, a togetherness, and I think that sort of example of sacrifice is important. I understand why there might be a bit of reaction to picking Jake but there is a specific reason why we have done it this time.”
National team managers always have trouble with injuries and withdrawals, it goes with the territory, though Southgate believes the fringe players who are often the ones messed around need to show the mental toughness to stay positive. “There is an important message to send to the group that if you are disappointed at being left out there might be an opportunity to come back in,” he explained. “If you respond in the right way, who knows what might happen?
“When I went to the World Cup in 2002 Trevor Sinclair was a standby player. He wasn’t even first choice, he was the second standby. Danny Murphy was initially called in ahead of him but then Danny got injured. Trevor had returned to England but he flew back to Japan and he ended up playing in the match against Argentina. So it’s a message to everyone in the group as much as to Jake. Stay positive.”
Southgate himself is trying to stay positive about a tournament currently in danger of being overshadowed by strained diplomatic relations and political posturing, though he still intends to have his family come to visit when England are in Russia. “That is the plan at the moment, but we are like everyone else, we will have to see what the advice is and if things change,” he said. “Russia is culturally an incredible country to visit, so I would like them to have that experience, and to go to a World Cup as well. I don’t think my children will be there for too long, they have to fit their visit around school and university, but their intention is to go.”
Gareth Southgate’s side face four friendlies before they head to their World Cup base – the 107-room ForRestMix club in the village of Repino, 19 miles outside St Petersburg.
Friday Netherlands A 7.45pm ITV
27 Mar Italy H 8pm ITV
2 June Nigeria H 5.15pm ITV
7 June Costa Rica H 8pm ITV
World Cup Group G
18 June Tunisia
Volgograd 7pm BBC
24 June Panama
Nizhny Novgorod 1pm BBC
28 June Belgium
Kaliningrad 7pm ITV
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