Euro 2020 Squad Extension: headache or boon for Southgate?

May 21 – “A good problem to have” is one of those football clichés often trodden out by pundits to highlight a selection issue for a manager. But it is a cliché based on some truth, as having players fighting for a place can be a boon for a coach, even if it can be tricky to keep players happy in rotation.

Nonetheless, this is an issue for England boss Gareth Southgate, and a problem that might just have been made a little bit easier with UEFA’s announcement that teams can name 26 players to Euro 2020 squads instead of the usual 23.

For several players on the fringe of Southgate’s squad, those extra three places could offer a lifeline for Euro 2020. And for Southgate, it might remove the necessity of an awkward phone call to someone who expected to get the nod. It might not be on the level of Paul Gascoigne being left out of the England squad for the 1998 World Cup, but there are some very good players who are uncertain of making Southgate’s final selection.

England boast deep talent pool

Consider, for example, the players ranked 24-29 on F365’s latest ‘Famous’ England Ladder. It’s not an exact science, but the website ranks the top 50 players by order of likelihood of making the squad after each round of international fixtures. The likes of Harry Kane and Harry Maguire top the latest list, as you might expect. But consider the six players ranked just outside the 23 – Jadon Sancho, Jesse Lingard, Eric Dier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Ward Prowse and Jude Bellingham.

The talents of that sextet above tells you a lot about England’s strength in depth, and why they top the market in the Euro 2020 odds to win the tournament outright. The likes of Sancho and Bellingham smack of the wild card element, the kind of players who could use a major tournament to become burst onto the scene in the same way that Michael Owen did in France in 1998. Southgate has lots of intriguing options at his disposal, and three extra picks could give him a few extra weapons. It is, well, a good problem to have.

Or is it? Southgate does not seem so enthused himself. He said: “Personally, I wouldn’t want to have too big a squad. I think there’s a skill in picking your 23. I think you end up with a lot of players not playing anyway and it’s difficult to manage.”. Despite that statement, Southgate will pick 26 players. However, there is a suggestion he will keep three as auxiliary players, only joining the main squad if there is an injury or suspension. For clarity, UEFA’s rules allow 26 players per squad, but only 23 can be picked for matchday.

Southgate wants to forge unity

Sky Sports broke the story on Southgate’s plan for three auxiliary players, who would be told before the first game of Euro 2020 that they will only be used to cover injuries or suspensions. If true, it seems a little myopic from the England manager to give himself such restraints.

Let’s say – hypothetically – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Greenwood, and Jack Grealish were the three extra players to make the 26. All three, it goes without saying, offer unique attacking threats. If we were to add another hypothetical – England needing a win to qualify in the third group game (versus Czech Republic) – wouldn’t it make sense to have an option to use a couple of those attacking threats in the matchday squad at the expense of a couple of defensive-minded players? Why restrict the options? At the very least, it would keep opposition managers guessing up until the last possible moment.

Of course, you can also see where Southgate is coming from and understand his argument, even if you don’t agree with it. Tournament football success can hinge on forging unity and cohesion among a group of players, and some managers believe having fewer players makes it easier to knit all that together. But having the option for three more gives Southgate a chance to keep a few aces up his sleeve. And, for the first time in decades, England seem to have the depth of talent to allow him to do that. Good problems to have.

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