Gareth Southgate has said he faces a “complicated decision” whether to keep faith with Harry Maguire for England after the defender’s struggles at Manchester United and hinted he has a lack of experienced replacements from which to choose.
That was emphasised on Monday night when John Stones, who was due to start Saturday’s friendly against Switzerland but withdrew after the warmup, pulled out of the squad as a precaution.
Maguire did not feature on Saturday despite Southgate defending his inclusion in the squad last week. Maguire is in contention to start against Ivory Coast on Tuesday night for what would be his 42nd cap for the senior side having been an ever-present during England’s World Cup qualification campaign.
Asked if Maguire was still one of the best players at his disposal given his recent loss of form, Southgate said the former Leicester defender still has plenty of credit left in the bank with England but cannot be assured of his place. “He got us to a World Cup semi‑final and the European Championship final so there’s no doubt he’s more than capable of playing at the highest level,” Southgate said.
“He was very good for us in the autumn and the club are in a difficult moment. There could be any number of reasons for that. But that doesn’t mean that players can be poor for a couple of years and then still find their way in and sometimes it depends on competition for positions.
“We’ve obviously left some forward players out who haven’t been in good form. But there’s direct replacements, experienced replacements for those players. So as I say, it is a complicated decision.”
Southgate revealed he had not “felt the need specifically” to discuss Maguire’s problems with him but hoped that being in “a fresh environment” with England had been beneficial.
“I recognise that his own club, he’s perhaps not feeling that full support of the fans at the moment,” Southgate told TalkSport.
“But I never think that is going to help a player perform at his very best, so we’ve got a player here who has been exceptional for England and has almost, with John [Stones], changed the type of football we’ve been able to play from the back over a period of time.”
With Southgate expected to omit Harry Kane against Ivory Coast, he refused to confirm who would take the captain’s armband at Wembley. The vice-captain, Jordan Henderson, played 90 minutes against Switzerland and could also be rested, so Maguire or Raheem Sterling are among the possibilities.
“I’ll let Ivory Coast find out when we put a team sheet in,” Southgate said. “If [Kane] had his way he would play 90 minutes of every fixture, which is a brilliant quality to have because if your captain wants to be at every camp and playing every minute of every game that sets the tone for everything else.
“The fact is, we’ve got a good squad. We want to keep people involved and give people opportunities. We need to see certain things across the week to see how people can play at the level.”
Ivory Coast’s first visit to Wembley will provide England with non-European opposition for the first time since beating USA 3-0 in a November 2018 friendly. Southgate said he would have liked the opportunity to have given his players more experience against different styles of play as they prepare for the World Cup in Qatar.
“There are definite attributes, traits and styles that do have cultural differences, South American football, the way it’s played, African football …” he said. “In an ideal world we’d like to have exposed our players to more of that. We’ve always wanted to do that. At junior level as well. But we’ve missed that opportunity.
“When I talk to coaches from South America, they’re regretting not having that opportunity as well. It’s been a factor in the last couple of years with the difficulties we’ve all faced. It’s not what we’d like but we’re in no worse a position than anyone else. It will be the teams that adapt the best that succeed.”