Gareth Southgate has hinted his England squad are under pressure from their clubs not to play international football to minimise the risk of injury.
The Three Lions boss has just 22 players to choose from for Wednesday night’s UEFA Nations League home game against Iceland after Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling became the latest injury victims to withdraw due to fitness concerns.
After losing 2-0 to Belgium on Sunday, the match at Wembley is of little significance with England unable to qualify for the finals and Iceland already relegated from Group A2.
The hectic calendar continues with the return of domestic football this weekend and the sheer number of injuries has increased across the board due to a condensed schedule resulting from the time lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic earlier in the year. This International break has already seen Joe Gomez, Sterling and Henderson all return to their respected club sides due to injury.
And when asked how “selfish” Southgate had to be in selecting his strongest line-up for England’s final match of 2020, the 50-year-old said: “There are two parts to that, one is we’ve got four matches in the next five months and we have to learn something from all of them.
“Tomorrow will be a different tactical challenge to the last couple of games.
“The second part is, the players want to play for England. They are in a really difficult situation. They are under huge pressure from their clubs, that is going on in the background for sure. That is the landscape whether we make it public or not, that is the reality.
“It manifests itself in different ways but that’s what happens. But they all want to play for England.
“They want to get as many caps as they can, they want to do well as a team. They want to be there for their mates. Having played for my country, I understand that as well but I also have huge empathy for the club managers.
“They know there are not just two or three clubs in the title race anymore, we’re six, seven clubs in England. There’s huge pressure on every result and everybody is looking to try to gain an advantage and if they feel somebody else is getting an advantage, they’ll want to make sure their voice is heard as well.
Leicester City lead an increasingly competitive Premier League table with Tottenham second and Liverpool third. Southgate made clear he realises the landscape of England‘s top flight had changed since he was a player.
“There’s all of that noise in the background but we’ve got to remember that we are competing against France, who pick all their players, Spain, who pick all theirs, Portugal who pick all their players. We’ve tried to be as understanding as we can around training, recovery and the friendlies in particular, but we also have to make the most of the games we’ve got.”