Gareth Southgate has recalled Phil Foden to the England squad for the first time since September’s Iceland escapade – but fellow Reykjavik renegade Mason Greenwood has been omitted for the upcoming triple-header.
The pair were left out of October’s internationals after infuriating the Football Association by breaching UEFA’s strict bio-bubble to meet girls at the team hotel after making their debuts in the Nations League opener.
Southgate always intended the punishment to only last for one camp and has decided that playmaker Foden’s form for Manchester City warranted a place in the 29-strong squad selected on Thursday.
But the wait for an England return will continue into 2021 for Greenwood after the Three Lions boss spoke to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about the 19-year-old’s development.
“They don’t come as a pair,” Southgate said. “They’re individual players with their own strengths and individual talents.
“Looking at the balance of the squad positionally, firstly, Phil has had quite a lot of football with his club most recently and Mason has had less game time with United.
“I’ve had a good chat with Ole about his development and, you know, I feel it’s better for him to stay with the club at the moment and to develop over the next few months.
“But they were both available. There’s no sort of carryover from what happened in September. That’s done.
“Both are available for selection and, you know, both are going to be very good players. There’s no doubt about that.
“So, the timeline this occasion is different for them, but they’re now judged on the football, their development, how they’re progressing.
“They’re both in an area of the pitch where there’s a lot of competition for places so it’s a real challenge for everybody in that area of the pitch.”
Foden will get the chance to impress on his return to the England fold as Southgate balances Nations League matches against Belgium and Iceland with next Thursday’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland.
“Clearly managing the three games is a challenge, and the friendly in particular gives us an opportunity to look at players, to find out about people, which we’ve managed to do in the last couple of months anyway,” he said.
“I think we’ve given 10 debuts in this period, so that’s quite a significant turnaround in terms of players.
“But some of those players have really grasped that opportunity and have added not only to the strength of the squad but are really pushing some of them for a place in the starting XI.
“When you have as few games as we do internationally, every one of those games is really important and really valuable, so we’re trying to balance having not too big a squad, which of course means you’ve got a lot of players on any given match not starting.
“But equally under normal circumstances, some boys wouldn’t have the opportunity to even be with us, so it’s good experience for us. We learn a lot about the players, we’ve got some very good games to look forward to.
“And, once again, as we as a nation heading towards a difficult time, we’re privileged to be playing football and we recognise how fortunate we are to be doing that.”
Reece James seems particularly fortunate to be called up after being sent off following the final whistle against Denmark, incurring a two-match ban that rules him out of the Belgium and Iceland games.
Harry Maguire is suspended for the trip to Belgium after his red card in the 1-0 loss to the Danes so may get some minutes against Ireland, when Manchester United team-mate Dean Henderson – the only uncapped member of the squad – will be hoping to make his England bow.
But his lack of recent game time and Nick Pope’s start to the season at Burnley means Jordan Pickford will remain number one, despite being dropped for Everton’s last match and making some high-profile errors.
“When people say I’ve been loyal to him, I mean, he’s deserved that,” Southgate said. “His performances have been excellent for us, so that’s not been a difficult decision for me.
“We have some competition for places but I’d have to say that there’s nobody that I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.
“So, in terms of how his club are looking after him, he’s got a hugely experienced manager there who has won everything in the game and he’s in a very good place with that.”