Gareth Southgate believes all 26 members of England’s World Cup squad in Qatar must be available to call on in every match to avoid unhappiness creeping into the group.
National coaches were able to pick 26-man squads, up from the usual 23, for last summer’s Euros to account for the condensed nature of the fixture list due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is set to be repeated in the Middle East later this year.
However, Southgate is concerned about the effects on morale if coaches can only pick a matchday squad of 23 for each game.
Jadon Sancho, who had lit up the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in the season heading into the Euros, was part of the non-playing trio for the opening game of the tournament against Croatia, and for each game three players had to take a seat in the stand.
Southgate said there was unanimity among coaches that all 26 players must be available to call on when they gathered in Doha on Friday morning ahead of the World Cup draw, although he has still not ruled out taking a smaller group anyway to ward off the risk of creating discontent in the squad.
Asked if he supported keeping squads at 26, he said: “We’re quite relaxed on it. I think what everyone is saying is that if the squads are going to be bigger then it needs to be a situation where everybody is able to change on a match day. That was unanimous in the room.
“Whether a bigger squad is necessary… originally that was for Covid, there’s now people talking about the condensed fixtures. I still think it’s a bigger skill to pick a 23 and to work all that out. But that decision will be made and I suspect it will be 26.
“But I think everybody has to be available for all the games. You either get the difficult conversations in the middle of November or in the next few weeks, that’s how it was last summer.
“When you are picking a team, when you’ve got 11 who are happy and 15 who are disappointed, that’s more of a challenge. That’s managing.
“You don’t have to take 26 – I know (Spain coach) Luis Enrique didn’t last year. That’s something we’ll have to think about, depending on what the Covid situation is and what our injuries might be.”
England were drawn to face Iran on the opening day of the World Cup finals on Monday, November 21, eight days after the final Premier League games are played before the winter World Cup forces a break.
“It will be more like a normal qualifier,” Southgate said when asked about the challenges of the shortened preparation time.
“We know that you can’t do a lot for the first couple of days, the players are still recovering. That’s why we’ll probably be better to fly (to Qatar) reasonably early so that we get all of that out of the way as well, otherwise you’re losing two days of training potentially. So they are the kind of things that I will sit down and plan in detail.”
He said talks would continue with the Premier League regarding the fixture scheduling on that final weekend of games in mid-November, adding: “We’ve been having those conversations quietly in the background. I’m sure if (the Premier League) can help, they’ll try to help.
“And in the end we know that the league finishing for the period it is, is difficult for everybody, so we don’t hold the cards with that. Obviously it’s more pivotal now for us – the early part of that week in terms of preparation.”
England face a series of firsts in Group B, in which the clash with Iran, which kicks off at 1pm GMT, will be followed by fixtures against the United States at 7pm on Friday, November 25 and either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine at the same time on Tuesday, November 29.
They have never played Iran in a senior international fixture, they will be seeking a first win over the United States at a World Cup finals at the third attempt, and they have never played Scotland, Wales or Ukraine in a World Cup finals match.
They have recent Euros experience against all three of those teams, however, drawing with Scotland in the group stage of Euro 2020, beating Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-finals of the same tournament, and beating Wales 2-1 in the group stage at Euro 2016.
The winner of the European play-off path will be known in June.