Southgate admits Rahem Sterling is not happy after England snub

Gareth Southgate has acknowledged that Raheem Sterling was “not particularly happy” after being left out of the England squad.

The 28-year-old is one of the national team’s most experienced players but has not played for England since the World Cup quarter-final exit to France in December, which marked his 82nd cap.

Sterling missed England’s March gathering due to injury, and a persistent hamstring issue led to a “mutual decision” with his camp to prioritize recovery after a challenging first season at Chelsea.

Despite a strong start to the campaign, Sterling did not receive the recall he had hoped for, as Southgate omitted him from the squad for September’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine and a friendly in Scotland.

“We were really pleased with the group in June,” the England manager said.

“To bring Raheem back, we would have to leave someone else out, and after three games, I didn’t believe any of the attacking players in this group deserved to be omitted.

“It’s encouraging to see him start the season so well. He looks in good form and determined.

“He’s obviously a crucial player for us and has been in the past.

“However, we have a lot of competition in those attacking areas just behind the forward. I believe all of those players have started the season well, and the group currently with us has performed admirably in recent games.”

When asked about Sterling missing three consecutive squads, Southgate responded, “He was unavailable for the last two, and, of course, that has given other players the opportunity to perform well and establish themselves in the group.

“It’s a difficult decision, and Raheem is not particularly happy about it, but I understand that because he’s an important player for us.

“I’m convinced he will have an excellent season with Chelsea; there’s no doubt about that.”

Southgate personally contacted Sterling to explain his decision, recognizing Sterling’s significant contribution to the team and his excellent recent form.

“Raheem is always very respectful in how he responds and handles things,” the England manager noted.

“He will always say, ‘I respect your decision,’ but, of course, he wants to return to the group. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

A statement from Sterling’s camp reiterated that they respected Southgate’s decision and stated, “Raheem will continue to focus on his performance in domestic football.”

Sterling has made a strong start to Chelsea’s Premier League campaign, scoring twice and providing an assist in their 3-0 win against Luton.

While Sterling was left out, Southgate retained faith in England vice-captain Jordan Henderson, even after his controversial move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq.

Harry Maguire, former Manchester United captain, and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips also made the squad, despite not playing for their clubs this season.

Southgate explained that he doesn’t always select players solely based on form, citing that form hasn’t been the sole criterion in various positions.

England’s issues in central defense and the lack of options for a single pivot midfield role influenced the inclusion of Maguire and Phillips. However, their positions in the squad are not guaranteed if their club situations persist.

“With Harry, the injuries to Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw probably mean there won’t be any club changes,” Southgate said ahead of the transfer deadline.

“So, no, I can’t sit here and say it’s an ideal situation with either.

“We have an opportunity for other players to step in at center-back due to absences, and others are playing in that role.

“In midfield, it’s a greater concern due to the specific nature of the position.

“I’ve discussed the low number of English players in certain positions, and people say, ‘What are you complaining about? You have a great pool to choose from.’

“But it’s about the specific positions. Left-back is one area, and the midfield pivot is definitely another.”

Southgate mostly stuck with familiar faces for the September matches, but he included uncapped Chelsea defender Levi Colwill and, more surprisingly, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah.

“Both are young players who have performed very well, especially with our junior teams,” Southgate explained. “Levi, of course, spent some time with us this summer.

“Eddie is being called up because we’d like to evaluate his potential. He’s a young player with a strong pedigree, an excellent finisher, and it’s a good opportunity for him to join us.

“I believe he’s also the record goalscorer for the Under-21s.

“He hasn’t had the chance to work with us until now, but he’s a player we are genuinely interested in.”