Gareth Southgate hit back at the critics after selecting Trent Alexander-Arnold for England’s Euro 2020 squad as the Three Lions boss admitted Harry Maguire is a doubt for the opener against Croatia.
Alexander-Arnold had to endure a nervous wait before learning he had made the cut after spending much of the season out of favour with Southgate.
The 22-year-old was left out of Southgate’s England squad for their World Cup qualifiers in March.
But Alexander-Arnold’s strong end to the season with Liverpool convinced Southgate to restore the right-back to his squad.
Alexander-Arnold responded to his selection by tweeting: “Always believe in yourself. Silence the doubters.”
Irritated by the inaccurate pre-announcement reports that he would drop Alexander-Arnold, Southgate insisted he never lost faith in the defender.
“The stories over the last couple of weeks that have ended up with lots of strange headlines, I’ve no idea where they’ve come from,” Southgate told reporters.
“For my players I want to protect them and so again we’re having to say to Trent last night: ‘Look, I don’t know where all this is coming from but it’s nonsense’.
“Because people then say I have an agenda and I don’t rate the kid, which is nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Southgate conceded Manchester United centre-back Maguire might not be fit in time for the start on the tournament.
Maguire has been struggling with ankle ligament damage suffered at Aston Villa in May.
The injury forced him to miss the Europa League final defeat against Villarreal last week.
Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson is also in the squad, even though he has not played since having surgery on a groin injury in February.
“It is going to be tight for the first game, there is no question,” Southgate said.
“Harry is such a good player and because we had the additional size of squad, we wanted to take that opportunity to bring him into the squad.
“We know exactly where he is at, he has not travelled yet to us because of the quarantine issues coming back from Poland.
“He has got a bit to do. Like Hendo, they have both got a bit to do.
“We feel the possibility is they can play a part and the fact is they are such fantastic characters around the group.”
– Lingard axed –
Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard, who had a superb loan spell with West Ham, was the highest profile casualty as Southgate axed six players from his provisional squad.
The 28-year-old’s brilliant form, including nine goals in 16 games, earned the Hammers a place in the Europa League, but it wasn’t enough to convince Southgate of his worth.
“For me personally, it was very difficult to speak to Jesse, who has given so much to England,” Southgate said.
The others to miss out were Sheffield United keeper Aaron Ramsdale, Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse, Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and uncapped centre-backs Ben Godfrey and Ben White.
One selection decision was taken for Southgate on Tuesday morning when Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood pulled out with what his club said was an “underlying injury”.
Southgate said the six players he has left out will be available to play in England’s friendlies at Middlesbrough against Austria on Wednesday and Romania on Saturday.
Alexander-Arnold faces intense competition, with Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James among four right-backs included in the squad.
Defending his decision, Southgate said: “We have four players that play sometimes at right-back for their clubs.
“If I could have picked five or six right-backs I would have done!”
The Three Lions begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia on June 13 before facing Scotland and the Czech Republic in Group D.
England’s 26-man squad for Euro 2020
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom)
Defenders: Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Reece James (Chelsea), John Stones (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Conor Coady (Wolves) Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Midfielders: Declan Rice (West Ham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Forwards: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)