England v Montenegro: Raheem Sterling set for international recall to face Kosovo

England's Joe Gomez (left) and Raheem Sterling during the training session at St George's Park, Burton.England's Joe Gomez (left) and Raheem Sterling during the training session at St George's Park, Burton.
England's Joe Gomez (left) and Raheem Sterling during the training session at St George's Park, Burton.
Gareth Southgate will recall Raheem Sterling for England’s game in Kosovo despite suspecting the forward has the hump with him after being axed for tonight’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro.

Only a point is needed against the Group A minnows to secure qualification for the finals and Thursday’s encounter at Wembley will also see the Three Lions celebrate becoming the first nation to play 1,000 international matches.

Much of the talk, however, has focused on a fracas rather than football in the build-up following Sterling’s exchange with Liverpool defender Joe Gomez less than 24 hours after the pair clashed towards the end of Manchester City’s 3-1 loss at Anfield.

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The Football Association announced late on Monday night that the 24-year-old would not be considered to face Montenegro as a result, with the forward making private and public apologies after emotions got the better of him.

While Southgate feels it may have caused a temporary rift in his relationship with Sterling, he insists he is ready to restore one of his key men in the final qualifier in Prishtina on Sunday.

“Yes,” Southgate replied when asked if he would be ready to turn to Sterling in Kosovo. “Without knowing what might happen in tomorrow’s game and everything else, but I can see it.”

Asked if he had any hesitation in making such a decision, he added: “None, none whatsoever.

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“As I have said, we take the decision and drew a line under everything. We move forward now, the way he’s trained has been exemplary, so that’s it.”

Southgate attempted to clear up the matter in a hastily-organised press conference on Tuesday but was still fielding questions about Sterling on the eve of their final home Euro 2020 qualifier.

“As a player, my relationship with my managers and how I felt about them changed day to day, and there were many occasions when I had the hump with them, usually when I wasn’t in the team,” the 57-cap former defender said.

“So I understand that, I hope that time takes its course on those things. As a manager you hope that you bring lots of good moments for players, there are those occasions where you give them their debut, you give them the chance to play.

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“But there are inevitably occasions when you don’t start them, where you have to take them off, and that will always be the landscape.

“I hope that all of my players know that, first and foremost, I care about them, that I want to be fair with them, that I want to do what’s right for all of them, and that they can lean on me when they need me.

“And I also accept that, at times, they’re not going to be bouncing with joy when they see my face walking through the meal room.

“So, that is part and parcel of being a manager. And if you’re not up for that challenge, then (it’s) better to go and do something else.”

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Asked if it was fair to say that Sterling had the hump with him, Southgate said: “Well, I wouldn’t imagine that he’s hugely enthusiastic (about me), but I can understand that and, in the end, he’s with the group, that’s the most important thing.

“I don’t know that (he has the hump with me) for sure. You don’t have to be an expert in human behaviour to think it was possible.

“His reaction has been brilliant. He spoke to the team really well and he’s trained really well and I can’t fault his reaction at all.”

Montenegro head coach Faruk Hadzibegic reckons Sterling’s row with Gomez has been blown out of proportion.

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Hadzibegic, whose side are winless from their seven qualification games, is not sure what all the fuss is about.

“I wouldn’t take it as such a problem, within the players these incidents happen because of different circumstances,” he said.

“Tensions in the team can happen because of the desires of the players. Sometimes as a coach you want players who care and want to achieve so I wouldn’t give this much emphasis on this incident.

“My colleague (Gareth Southgate) handed a punishment and it will pass. These things happen in life and football teams are like a family.”

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Hadzibegic’s pragmatic approach perhaps comes because he knows England will be able to replace Sterling – their form man of the last 12 months – with another high-quality player.

The former Real Betis and Red Star Belgrade manager is not letting the Three Lions’ in-fighting affect his side’s build-up to the game.

“With an incident like that there is a punishment that follows but it shouldn’t influence the approach of our game,” he added.

“There are a few international teams that can have that luxury that have one of the best players out of their squad and still be strong, for us it doesn’t change anything and we will approach the game as if there is the strongest possible squad.”