Gareth Southgate believes this is an England squad to be “excited about” after plumping for promise rather than experience with a bold World Cup selection.
Uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold was celebrating a maiden senior call-up on Wednesday afternoon as experienced Adam Lallana, Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere reeled from the disappointment of missing out.
After months of speculation, scrutiny and conjecture, the 23 men charged with bringing the country success in Russia were revealed by the Football Association along with the five-strong stand-by list for the tournament.
England’s joint second-most capped goalkeeper Hart was excluded from both lists as were Arsenal midfielder Wilshere and Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand – but Lallana provided the biggest shock.
The attacking midfielder is a favourite of Southgate yet managing just one Premier League start in an injury-disrupted season means the 30-year-old had to settle with a stand-by place alongside former Hull City midfielder Jake Livermore, Burnley pair Tom Heaton and James Tarkowski, and ex-Leeds United midfielder Lewis Cook.
It is understood Lallana has met the news with maturity and positivity – plus Liverpool’s Champions League final preparations will give him the chance to build fitness that could yet see him called upon.
While Lallana is the most notable omission, uncapped Reds team-mate Alexander-Arnold is the most striking inclusion.
An impressive performer in Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, the 19-year-old briefly trained with Southgate’s side in March and has now been named in the senior squad for the first time.
“I believe this is a squad which we can be excited about,” England manager Southgate said.
“It is a young group, but with some really important senior players so I feel the balance of the squad is good, both in terms of its experience, its character and also the positional balance.
“We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team, but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we’ve been looking to develop.
“The selection process has been over months really, it’s not just been the last few weeks. We feel the team are improving and we want to continue that momentum.
“The first call up for Trent Alexander-Arnold is well deserved. When we pick young players, it’s not just because they are young, it’s because their performances deserve it.
“We’ve also had a couple of injuries with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez, which is a huge blow for them personally and disappointing for us.”
Southgate has made 12 changes to the squad that floundered at Euro 2016, underlining his desire to build a group capable of providing long-term success – even if that means more experienced players missing out.
That stance will be pawed over at a press conference at Wembley on Thursday morning, with the England manager’s only comments so far coming through the FA’s website.
Southgate spoke about the “really tough” decision to leave out Hart and Bertrand, with the latter overlooked as Ashley Young and Danny Rose got the nod at left-back.
Fabian Delph is a versatile option like Young and has shown his ability to play there this season and his Manchester City form sees him included despite last representing his country in November 2015.
Chris Smalling and Michael Keane will watch from afar this summer, but there was a surprise reprieve for fellow defender Gary Cahill after being excluded from March’s squad.
The only member of the group to have reached a half-century of caps, the Dronfield-born Chelsea skipper’s experience will be invaluable.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is in the squad after building on November’s man-of-the-match international debut on loan at Crystal Palace, while uncapped Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope was selected for the third spot behind Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.
Southgate’s number one goalkeeping choice for Russia is sure to be broached on Thursday morning, along with questions on the captaincy and composition of his stand-by list.
“History tells us that one of those standby players may end up in the squad, as it’s very unusual for us to get through the end of the season and our two preparation games without any issues,” Southgate said.
“All of the guys on standby have been really professional in their approach to this.
“They recognise there’s still an opportunity and we’ve had a lot of conversations over a period of time with them about their situation.”
The Three Lions manager has up until June 4 to whittle down the 35-man long list already given to FIFA, but Southgate always intended to name his 23 early in a bid to strip unnecessary anxiety and pressure from preparations.
Most players will kick-off their World Cup preparations on Monday, although Manchester United and Chelsea players will get time off after the FA Cup final – just as those involved in Liverpool’s Champions League final will.
England have warm-up friendlies against Nigeria at Wembley on June 2 and Costa Rica in Leeds on June 7, with the Group G opener against Tunisia on June 18.