England boss Gareth Southgate has revealed that Chris Smalling‘s omission from his latest England squad was predicated by the defender’s comparative lack of ability on the ball.
Smalling has featured regularly for England ever since a superb 2015/16 campaign under Louis van Gaal at Manchester United.
But he was left out of the England squad for clashes with Germany and Brazil, with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez taking his place at the back.
And Southgate, explaining his decision, noted that Smalling’s omission was part of a wider plan to encourage a game plan revolving more around building from the back.
“No, I think he can,” he said. “We have players like Stones and (Eric) Dier and Maguire who are even better.”
“Chris has got 30 caps, he plays for Manchester United, so I know what he can do. The other guys I want to see and want to look at and that’s an important part of how we want to play, building from there.
“That’s probably the toughest call I’ve had to make because of the team that Chris is playing for and the fact he’s playing and keeping clean sheets.
“We had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying. But we’re nowhere near the highest scorers and so we’ve got to address that. Part of that is being able to build and create chances.”
Southgate knows that he needs to make major changes with England – not just in terms of personnel but overall style.
And a key aspect of this evolutionary process is how England play from the back. The days of kick and rush, clearing your lines at all costs, and just a generally backward outlook that precludes England from ever looking settled at major tournaments has to end.
This is why, in moving to a back three, Southgate wants to engender a crucially un-English way of manipulating the ball, moving it through phases with patience and precision rather than just, you know, lumping the thing up the pitch and having absolutely no unpredictability as a result.
This is harsh for Smalling. He doesn’t deserve to be dropped whatsoever, but if Southgate is going to make meaningful changes he cannot just revert to type. You can be sure he won’t be the first casualty.