England Euro 2021 squad: our player-by-player verdict on Gareth Southgate’s 26
Gareth Southgate took England to the World Cup semi-final in his first tournament campaign as manager, emulating Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson in 1966 and 1990, and has prepared for his second tournament, a year late after the Covid-19 pandemic, with warm-up matches against Austria and Romania before finalising his 26-man England squad for Euro 2021.
It may only be three years since Russia but only nine survivors remain from the squad who finished fourth, with 16 newcomers to tournament football plus the left-back Luke Shaw, who played one game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Given the churn, injuries and the emergence of a new cadre of talent, there have been some surprising inclusions and omissions.
Here’s the full rundown of the squad and what each player can bring to the team.
The first choice in a position not very well-served. “Pickers” as Southgate affectionately calls him once famously replied to a question that he might have “over-thought” a situation by pointing out that over-thinking was not a danger for a man regarded as one of the squad’s simpler characters. A brave goalkeeper who is sometimes reckless. It was his wild challenge on Virgil van Dijk that ended the Liverpool captain’s season. But Pickford is also the best Southgate has in terms of distribution. His penalty-save won England the 2018 World Cup last 16 tie against Colombia.
Do say: loves a penalty shoot-out (and getting the rave on).
Don’t mention: a tendency to lead with his feet in moments of high anxiety.
A solid 2019-2020 season on loan at Sheffield United saw him return to parent club Manchester United declaring his intention to battle De Gea for top spot. While he played major games in 2020-21, for a variety of reasons, it would be hard to say he made an unanswerable case to be United’s No 1. Another one who is capable of mistakes and takes up some strange positions. Likes to project total confidence and self-belief although that does not necessarily mean it is shared by all around him. Will have to be able to cope with being a No 2 and show that he is prepared to be a good squad player for what could be a long tournament.
Do say: much better at saving penalties than De Gea.
Don’t mention: the rather large part of the goal left open to Mohamed Salah at Old Trafford.
Would have been left at home were it not for the injury to Nick Pope that has seen Henderson promoted to No 2. Another United academy boy who has had a standout season at relegated West Bromwich Albion where he made more saves than any other Premier League goalkeeper – which says a lot about him and maybe a lot about the state of West Brom’s defence. Good on distribution which is important to the way Southgate plays. At 28 he has experience, even if most of it is in the Championship and League One.
Do say: zero errors leading to goals conceded this season in the Premier League.
Don’t mention: 76 goals conceded in the Premier League this season.
At 30, one of the key senior players, and coming off one of his best seasons at Manchester City. His aggression, pace and athleticism, as well as the technical qualities he always had, make him stand out, Southgate played him as a right-sided centre-back at Russia 2018. Away from football his life has looked messy at times. He became a tabloid regular by fathering a child with a woman who is not his partner. Then he had to apologise for one of the more memorable lockdown transgressions – hiring sex workers. Strangely enough, his football has never been better. Given the strict Covid bubble conditions in the England camp he may have no option but to behave himself.
Do say: great performance against Kylina Mbappé in Paris this season.
A favourite of Southgate and a versatile modern full-back or wing-back. Has the dubious distinction of being one of the few high-profile players to be banned by the Football Association for gambling offences. That was over bets by friends placed on his move away from Tottenham Hotspur in 2019. His delivery from wide positions remains excellent and he is a Liga champion with Atlético Madrid where he played 27 league games this season, even with the FA ban. He was a standout performer in Spain. His days as a useful tipster hopefully now behind him.
Do say: An Englishman playing abroad and winning a league title. How refreshing.
Don’t mention: “Lump on it”.
A mainstay for Southgate as a first-choice centre back in a problematic position – which makes his ankle ligament injury a major concern. A determined, physical type of defender, who is also nice on the ball, although there is that nagging concern that he belongs outside the very highest calibre of international centre-halves. Will be hoping for a better summer than the last which saw him enter the Greek criminal justice system after a holiday there went awry and obliged him to protest his innocence of charges on BBC News at Ten. Another Russia 2018 hero who saw his career take-off at that World Cup but goes into the Euros with a higher profile, and carrying an injury.
Do say: neat on the ball, powerful in the tackle, head of slab in the air.
Don’t mention: “Fancy a pre-season friendly in Mykonos?”.
One half of the best defensive pairing in the Premier League by a long way. Has resurrected his Manchester City career alongside Ruben Dias and has played as well as he ever has for much of the season. As with many of his City team-mates, however, the Champions League final could have been better. There have been some highs and lows since Russia 2018 when he, Maguire and Walker were the back three. Will always be the first choice to bring the ball out of defence by Guardiola and does it as well as any midfielder when he is in form. Once again the question is whether he can avoid those moments when the concentration slips.
Do say: carry it out of defence and look for the ball in between the lines.
Don’t mention: that nagging fear he might just overcomplicate it.
Strong contender to be Manchester United’s player of the season – and certainly their best defender. Remarkable that he is only 25, and also that by the end of this season he had won only nine England caps from making his debut in March 2014 as an 18-year-old. That summer he signed for United and the great career that was expected began to misfire, with injuries and form and certain unsympathetic managers all contributing. Did not feature at Euro 2016 or Russia 2018 but now a contender as the first choice left-back or wing-back, more experienced and presumably a good deal wiser.
Do say: a commendable fightback from international oblivion.
Don’t mention: “What’s Louis van Gaal like?”
Briefly dethroned as Chelsea No 1 left-back after Tuchel’s arrival, it will be Chilwell against Shaw for the left-sided position. A fine attacking force with great pace and delivery, his omission from the side to start the FA Cup final was all the more striking for his effect when he came on. Got his place back in Tuchel’s side for the Champions League final in Porto, and played a key part in the move for the goal. Has become a regular for Southgate after the last World Cup finals and arguably offers greater attacking threat than Shaw.
Don’t mention: a historical concern over his susceptibility to injury, which means that he may share the role with Shaw when the tournament games come thick and fast.
A relative newcomer with six caps for England at the age of 21 but a strong contender to start games for Southgate, whatever system the team plays. A powerful defender who is dangerous going forward and was outstanding in the Champions League final against Sterling. He is another of the turn-of-the-millennium-born generation who has come through the FA’s junior teams and should be ready for the pressure of tournaments. Won a European championship with England Under-19s in 2017. Was picked in the squad ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold for the March World Cup qualifiers.
Do say: Tuchel has picked him for the big games, and he has delivered.
Don’t mention: his strange determination to get a red card after the final whistle against Denmark.
A late international blooming, making his debut for England at the age of 28. He is not a first-choice centre-back but valued for his experience and leadership qualities and, of course, his left foot – he is one of the few English centre-backs who is naturally left-footed. There is a concern over how he might compete against some of the best forwards in the world. He is susceptible to pace and needs players around him to prevent him from being isolated. Comfortable on the ball and good in the air.
Do say: part of a Villa defence that kept 14 clean sheets with him in it in the Premier League this season.
Don’t mention: liable to be skipped around by the fleet-footed.
Another late developer on the international scene who finally made his debut at the age of 27. Not a first-choice centre-back but another who has lots of Premier League experience and offers leadership on the pitch. He has played in a back three and a back four at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Impressed Southgate when he came into the squad recently at the end of last year and regarded as a good man to have around. Does lack pace and might struggle with runners in behind but determined and willing.
Do say: that goal against Wales gives him a decent international strike-rate for a four-cap centre-half.
Don’t mention: what happened to Wolves this season?
One of the uncapped names in the provisional squad who might have expected to have been cut for the final selection, White has seen his career take off in the last two years. He had a full season in Leeds United’s promotion campaign and then featured in all but two league games for Brighton and Hove Albion this season. Southgate says that he has tracked the centre-back since his Leeds days and appreciates his versatility across defence and in midfield. Rejected by Southampton at 16, now at 23 he has played in all four divisions and demonstrated that a career can be built if a player is prepared to go out on loan to get experience.
Do say: only seven Premier League sides conceded the same number or fewer goals than Brighton this season.
Don’t mention: how different would it be if he had been able to get that permanent move to Leeds?
He will only turn 18 next month and yet the youngest member of the squad quickly became an obvious squad choice after his two substitute performances in November and March. A Champions League footballer now, the move to Borussia Dortmund has paid off handsomely for the teenager where he has looked well capable of stepping up to the level required. By way of comparison, Steven Gerrard was two years older when he was selected in the Euro 2000 squad. Bellingham is one whom Southgate may well throw into the side or use as a first-choice substitute. So mature in performance that it is easy to forget how young he is.
Do say: a contender to be a future England captain.
Don’t mention: him getting a round in (until his next birthday).
His status in the game has grown considerably in recent years, and Southgate values his influence in the squad above all. For that reason, he was always likely to select the Liverpool captain in spite of the injury problems he has suffered at the end of the domestic season. Even so, Southgate admits that it is a gamble. The argument was that Henderson has been training hard in his rehabilitation, a “high level of work” Southgate said last week, and should be able to hit the ground running when England’s friendlies begin. Critical for Southgate to see now how he trains.
Do say: the squad’s natural leader, on and off the pitch.
Don’t mention: the injury; taking unfit players to tournaments always ends well – doesn’t it?
Along with Foden, one of the bright young things of the English game and now a Champions League winner. Mount is a very strong candidate to start for England as part of the midfield three having won 16 caps and scored four goals since his debut in September 2019. Chelsea’s player of the year offers ingenuity, running, goals, assists and a general attitude that no task on the pitch is too difficult. His form and fitness are not in question and he is unjaded by former England campaigns. One of those who could really sparkle at the Euros and an international for many years to come.
Don’t mention: that section of the Chelsea support that didn’t rate him for a while, now furiously backtracking.
Another injury concern whom Southgate has decided to take nonetheless – which shows how few available players there are similar to Phillips. The shoulder injury against West Brom has been assessed by the England medical staff and the player has been passed to perform. Only made his debut in September and not an obvious first choice but a useful man to have around if Southgate needs cover in midfield. He has impressed the England manager over the course of his seven caps, all picked up since September when he first came into the side.
Do say: Mr Leeds, born and bred, a tidy player with an incredible stamina level.
Don’t mention: another injured player approaching the tournament with uncertainty.
A fine season but one which was halted in March with a knee injury in his last games for England. The midfielder came back into the West Ham side for the final three games of the season which will be some reassurance for Southgate who has so many midfielders either carrying injuries or, in this case, returning from absences. His energy and presence in midfield make him a strong contender to start games at the Euros. Another member of the turn-of-the-millennium-born generation in whom Southgate has much faith. Also fresh and optimistic about England, unaffected by previous tournament failures.
Do say: all-action midfielder in the best English traditions.
Don’t mention: he used to be Irish, you know.
An understudy for Kane – who has beaten the likes of Danny Ings and Patrick Bamford to the role. He started the 2020-21 season in red-hot form for Everton and then took his chance when the moment came with goals for England on his debut in October against Wales and then again in November against Republic of Ireland. He has not been scoring at the same rate since the turn of the year but his performance in March against San Marino, in which he got another two for England, seem to have won him the argument over others. A goalscorer with all the attributes of pace, strength and ability – it is reaching Kane levels of consistency that is the challenge.
Do say: a great all-rounder, in the Kane model.
Don’t mention: he went a bit quiet for Everton at the end of the season.
He is arguably the diamond of the English game and perhaps the delay of Euro 2020 to the following summer of 2021 suits him perfectly. In the interim he has taken his place in the Manchester City team and now looks as if he might do the same in the England side. A brilliant passer and dribbler he is now also scoring goals. It will be hard to leave Foden out, although who makes way for him is a much trickier question. He has the ability to break a game open with his capacity to go past opponents and then make the right decision in high-pressure moments. With great talent, come great expectations.
Southgate was worried about the shin injury that kept Grealish out of all Villa’s games from mid-February to the last four matches of the season. Nevertheless, this is another rare talent whom Southgate now seems to accept he cannot do without. Not that it was love at first sight for the England manager. The fear was always that Grealish played the game at his own pace and would slow down the quick thrusts of England’s attack, especially when they had to counter against good sides. Grealish forced his way into the reckoning and his performance against Belgium in November in particular was a game-changer. A favourite with the fans.
Do say: a Gazza for the 2020s, but thankfully with fewer issues.
Don’t mention: “Julia Roberts is in the hotel lobby”.
England captain, Premier League top goalscorer, Premier League top assister and the top goalscorer at the 2018 World Cup finals. The hope for Southgate is that his most experienced leading player goes into this tournament in form. It looks as if Kane is injury-free and ready to make an impact. The disappointment in Russia was just one goal in three knockout games after Kane had scored five in two group games. There is also, of course, the question of his future beyond this summer although it is hard to see that affecting his performance at this tournament. One of the best goalscorers in the world game and an integral figure for England.
Do say: he’s bang in form – this is his tournament to be England’s star.
A major part of the Southgate plan in recent years, with pace and goal threat from the wide positions. Also now a major figure in British public life through his food poverty campaigning. Seems to be comfortable living in the public eye. A veteran of Russia 2018, this will be a tournament in which he is determined to leave his mark. Injured for the England games in March, his league form has been patchy since then. Nevertheless, is often a man for the big occasion and even at 24 has considerable experience over 40 caps. Likely to be a starter for Southgate but will be well aware that the manager has many options in the front line.
Do say: unstoppable, either cutting in from the left on his right foot, or mobilising social justice.
A great season in a very mediocre Arsenal team has propelled him into the England squad where he offers cover in many different positions including full-back and wing-back. Another one who has shown great maturity for his club, often outperforming much bigger – and better remunerated – names at Arsenal. A fine crosser of the ball and also unafraid to commit defenders, he impressed Southgate in his four caps at the end of last year. He missed the March games with injury but has come back into the Arsenal side to start the big games this season.
Don’t mention: this is the last European football he will be playing for a while.
Has played four Bundesliga seasons now at Dortmund and no longer alone as the great hope of English football. His generational peers have caught up and are in the squad with him now. A great conjuror with the ball at his feet and dangerous one-on-one. Was just too young for Southgate to select him in 2018 but comes off another strong season to challenge for a place in that gold-plated frontline of attackers. Potentially coming back to the Premier League next season and will see this as an opportunity to demonstrate his value.
Do say: “Ed Woodward is on the line – he says you’re his legacy signing”.
Don’t mention: unauthorised haircuts.
Tried and tested for Southgate and a key man on one of the England managers best nights – that win against Spain in Seville in October 2018. Ordinarily would be a certainty to start games on the right but will be well aware that competition for paces is ferocious now. Seems to be at a crossroads. Dropped by Guardiola at the end of the season, then came back into the City side for the Champions League final and played poorly. The most capped player in the squad with 61, he is still only 26. Captained England in March and will no doubt wish to prove that he remains one of the main men.
Do say: in the prime of his career: trophies, goals, experience – the lot.