England boss Gareth Southgate has admitted “muddying the message” after calling up out-of-favour Manchester United full-back Luke Shaw.
Southgate’s first get together since landing the job full-time was full of surprises. Wayne Rooney was left out of the party and Theo Walcott was also culled despite scoring 17 times this season and he was handed the bad news on his 28th birthday.
The very notion that Rooney would sit out a squad which included the likes of a 34-year-old Jermain Defoe, West Brom midfielder Jake Livermore and uncapped players such as Michail Antonio, Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse, would have seemed fanciful at the start of the season.
Rooney’s United team-mate Shaw was though named despite playing only twice since the turn of the year and speculation over his future with the Red Devils.
“Luke is the one that is short of that game time at the moment but it will hopefully boost how he feels about himself and I am sure there will be an opportunity for him to get on the field as well,” sais Southgate.
“We are conscious of that slightly muddying the message we have given more generally. But I wanted to let him know what we were thinking.”
Meanwhile, Rooney’s hopes of leading England to the 2018 World Cup are in doubt after Southgate warned his place in the squad, as well as his captaincy, were no longer guaranteed.
Southgate left the 31-year-old out of an expanded, and much-changed, 26-man squad to face Germany and Lithuania, despite admitting he could be fit enough to play for Manchester United this weekend.
Rooney has been struggling with a knee injury but regardless of his fitness, Southgate harbours concerns over a lack of game-time at Old Trafford, with just one Premier League start in 2017.
Southgate made the bold call to drop the country’s record goalscorer, and skipper since 2014, while still in interim charge against Slovenia and has now suggested his right to a call-up is up for grabs on a game-by-game basis, as is the armband.
For a player who has been essentially untouchable since 2003, and who publicly planned to sign off in Russia next summer, the sands are shifting at a worrying rate.
“We have this thing about ‘an England captain’, but really the captain is the person that is captain in the next game, isn’t it?” Southgate said.
“I’ve talked with Wayne and I think there’s a chance he’s fit for the weekend but the injury, coupled with the fact he’s not had a lot of game time recently and others have, determined my decision.
“Always the danger in any sport with naming a ‘captain’ is selection. We have to look at Wayne as a number 10, which is his predominant role. In the last two games we’ve played Dele (Alli) there and we’ve played Adam Lallana there. Ross Barkley has been playing very well for his club.
“So there’s competition. I can’t dress that up any other way. There are some very good players and it’s a battle to get in this squad.
“Wayne totally understands that. He doesn’t have any expectations of being treated differently or treated in a special way.”