ASSUMING the hospitals arenât full of broken England players, we are entering a big week for Gareth Southgate.
The Three Lions manager names his 26-man squad for the World Cup on Thursday.
Right now, itâs a wonder he will fill the team coach with so many players going down injured – such a dilemma for managers of both clubs and country.
Itâs natural that players with World Cup hopes will have the tournament on their minds, even though their only concern is the next Premier League match – and rightly so.
Trying to pick a squad is almost as exhausting as a training session in the Qatar heat.
England seem blessed in some positions but recent fitness issues leave Southgate down to the bare bones in others.
Defence is a nightmare in particular. I was so sorry to see Ben Chilwell become the latest casualty, with his hamstring injury playing for Chelsea, and I wish him a speedy recovery.
As a manager, I always loved exciting, attacking players who can do the unexpected. Footballers with a touch of the artist within.
Itâs why I am such a huge fan of James Maddison. Him and Jack Grealish are two of my favourite midfielders.
But Maddison, in particular, I feel especially sorry for. He is playing well in a struggling team this season at Leicester.
Six league strikes tells you he still has his eye for a goal and his drive for the team is impressive.
In any other country, a player like Maddison would be on the plane to the World Cup without a momentâs hesitation.
He is a clever player but, unfortunately for him, there are a lot of them around at present.
Grealish, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount – not all exactly the same, but all players who can unlock opposition teams.
Given the nature of international football these days and maybe a little to do with the conditions despite air-conditioned stadiums – there will be a lot of tight games.
Grealish, Maddison and the others will be needed more than ever to make a breakthrough.
Up front we are in good shape. Harry Kane, barring a disaster, is clearly the leader of the dressing room. In terms of out-and-out strikers Iâd also take Ivan Toney and Callum Wilson.
Wilson, I know, had his injury problems but he is in great form at the moment.
Sure, itâs a gamble taking him and he hasnât played for England for three years. But at every tournament there seems to be a surprise player who comes from nowhere into the reckoning.
Putting him and Brentfordâs Toney alongside Kane would be the perfect trio to choose from. All three are experienced penalty-takers, too.
With those close games coming, it would be an asset for Southgate to be able to bring on three experienced penalty-takers. Instead of having to >Euro 2020 final.
In midfield, I am such a fan of Jude Bellingham. To be captain of Borussia Dortmund at 19 tells you a lot of what this boy is about.
What a few weeks this lad could have. I am so looking forward to seeing his maturity up against the best in the world.
The rest of the midfield picks itself but I would take James Ward-Prowse. What a club player he is. A proper midfielder, as I would say. A great all-rounder who should be at a top-six club.
In defence, we are so short itâs a case of every man standing coming along.
By the way, I canât understand the debate about Trent Alexander-Arnold. He can look vulnerable to a ball inside him, or to balls at the back post. But itâs nothing that 20 minutes extra a day wouldnât solve.
At Portsmouth I had similar issues with Glen Johnson. He relied so much on pace that his positioning sometimes went out of kilter.
Alexander-Arnold is just the same â but reset him and he can be a huge asset to the squad.
MEMORIES OF RONNIE
IT was so sad to hear about the passing of Ronnie Radford this week.
His stunning goal against Newcastle in the 1972 FA Cup should be cherished forever as an iconic moment in the competition.
That was the third round of course and, in the fourth, West Ham went to Edgar Street fearing another upset. I was playing for the Hammers at the time.
We drew 0-0 there and the replay would make for a great quiz question. Due to an energy crisis, much like todayâs, the replay was not under the lights in midweek but played on a Monday lunchtime to save us putting on the floodlights at Upton Park.
There was also a three-day week in operation at the time so more than 42,000 people squeezed into Upton Park and on the roof of the flats behind the old North Bank. What an image that was.
Geoff Hurst had little time for the romance of the Cup â sticking a hat-trick past Hereford.
But what a performance from Ronnie and the Hereford lads. God bless.
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