*By Alan Peters, with help from well known sports writer, FA Coach and international pundit – A J Rutherford*
If I were Mr Southgate…
Firstly I’d sort out the Ben White situation. Currently the best English full-back available, and not exactly known as a trouble-maker, I’d do what it takes to get him involved. Full back is our weakest position on the pitch, and although the only two fit good ones, White and Walker, both play on the right, I’d want them both on the plane. Either at left back is still a stronger bet than the current options.
Then I’d get some help on the look I want. That Russian waistcoat was terrific, but it has been a little downhill from there. I’m sure the Spaniards with the best teams and the best dress sense in the PL will offer a few suggestions. (I mean, of course, Mikel and his apprentice, promising Pep.)
But those aside, let’s work with the training squad as picked. Twenty six players is a lot. Several are going to get to Germany and find little action (apart from the inflatable dolphin races in the pool). So it will be important that those fringe performers can cope with that… (the bench warming, not the clowning in the chlorine). Hopefully, they all can.
*Golly Gosh we need three Goalies*
So let’s start at the back. Keepers can be changed, if injury hits, throughout the tournament, but we still need three. *Jordan Pickford* is clearly Gareth’s Number One, although like most of the country, I tend to think *Aaron Ramsdale *is better. Actually, I think he is better than David Raya, too, but there we go. Yet our Jords is always a mistimed lunge or wind up away from a red card, and Mr Ramsdale could well anger a Euro ref or two. So, a third choice is needed. *Dean Henderson* is without doubt currently a better bet than James Trafford. That may well change in time, but not yet.
Some might raise a worried eyebrow that, (fairly) big Jords apart, none of the others might be considered first choice for their clubs, which include even Burnley. However, nobody doubts Aaron should be, and soon will be once more. (Sadly for Arsenal fans, but happily for other fans, probably Toons, according to my good mate and the man with the inside line, Mr A J Rutherford, esquire, pundit and top sporting journo – not just in the view of his readers, but in his own judgement too). *(You’ve already said all that. Ed. I know. Contractual obligations. Alan. Why? Ed. That’s AJ. Al.)*
*Backing the Back Line*
I’ve already touched on the full back problem. To be honest, this worry stretches all the way along the back four. Yet, your back four (I doubt Super-Southy will go for a five, or a three, unless dire or desperate circumstances dictate) needs to be as consistent as it can be. So, there’s not much point taking half a plane load of defenders, only to not use three quarters of them.
From what we have, the first choice picks itself.
*Kyle Walker* on the right – and hope his thirty three year old legs are still strong and supple enough to cope with Mbappe in (probably) the semi-finals. Kyle’s made the odd mistake or two of late, but fortunately they’ve been largely off the pitch. Not least, that sycophantic podcast, he’s released. Joe Wilkinson and Patrick Bamford are so much better (My Mate’s a Footballer). In fact, I’d have had Patrick in the squad, as a sort of smaller Peter Crouch, just on the back of it. Maybe Joe too. Yet, back to Kylie, seven games in a month is pushing it at his age. And we don’t want him breaking down as the tournament reaches its climax.
*John Stones *in the centre. Provided he stays fit. Ditto seven games in a month. Worrying. *Mark* *Guehi *partnering Stonesy. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Because of this weird loyalty thing the Supremo gives to *Harry Maguire*. I’d still take the happy hulk, because if we need a goal with ten minutes to go, he can be a threat from set pieces. (Although, and I’m not completely sure of the stats here, but this threat seems to diminish by the game. Note – AJ doesn’t do stats – ‘stats for prats’, as he says – he relies on gut instinct.) But the commentators’ fave phrase, (after their breathless swoon every time Harry Kane wins a free kick), of ‘people question Maguire’s inclusion, but Gareth knows he never lets England down…’ It needs consideration. True, he doesn’t let England down. Because that phrase implies some kind of wilful error, or lack of commitment, and I’m sure that not only Harry, but every player picked to represent the Three Lions (and just about every other nation who plays the Beautiful Game) never displays those traits. But he does make mistakes. Regularly. I fear it could cost us. One day. Again.
On the left, *Luke Shaw* is by far the strongest choice even semi-available. I *think* the rules state that injured players can be changed up to the day before the competition starts. So include him for now, and then make a decision as late as Gareth can get away with if it looks like he’s not going to make it. And I don’t want to be blasé, but we should get through the group stages even with a limited left back. In fact, if all goes to plan the last 16 game will be against a third place team from one of the other groups, so that too has the potential to be more straightforward than most at that stage. So if unlucky Luke is going to be ready for a half a game then he’s worth risking. Twenty six spots. A risk or two is permitted.
So who to take as a back up? *Joe Gomez* and *Ezri Konsa*, we’re constantly assured, can play anywhere along the back line. Konsa did well for Villa, and Gomez has a great beard, so they should be in. (That’s cruel. Gomez is a fine player, and actually, the beard isn’t that brilliant.) If Jordan Henderson isn’t going, then *Kieran Trippier *must. Gareth’s Law. Although, I don’t think he’ll play much. Then, knowing our Gazza…That leaves Branthwaite, Dunk and Quansah at home. Sad, because they are all good players. But we already have nine defenders (eight here and one to come – see ‘midfield’). Really, what is the point in taking more. A centre half is probably only going to change a game by going up for a corner, and with got the Mighty Mags to do that already.
*Masters of Midfield *
We can’t be sure why quite a few of the players are listed under parts of the pitch in which really they don’t play. Maybe the naturally cautious Mr Southgate is trying to spin, Sunak like, the idea that really he is very attacking minded (twelve out of thirty-three players in that quarter of the pitch.) If so, as with Rishi the Rascal, we’re not fooled. Not that it really matters, but it does mean that the midfield section of the squad is notably thin.
Few of us think that is because Gareth’s going to suddenly turn the team into a sort of Wimbolton and get the side to just ‘oof it up to ‘arry (Kane, I mean, not Maguire, but hey, who knows?)
Then again, to include just six players as midfielders, with one of them being a defender by trade, is a tad odd.
*Declan Rice* is a must, of course. I’d take *Trent Alexander-Arnold *as well, even if the length of his name takes up a lot of copy space on the Sun’s back page. (*Important consideration, if GS wants good press. I know about these sort of things – AJ)* He’s a terrific player, and definitely the second best full back available, perhaps the best, overall, as well as emerging as a defensive midfielder. I don’t think he will, but if Gareth goes down the inverted full back route, Trent is the man (to be fair, this takes a lot of teamwork to cover, and an international manager doesn’t get that long with his players). He also takes the best corners. We can genuinely get excited when the ball goes behind with him on the pitch.
After that, it gets a bit tough. (Well, not really, because half of the ‘attackers’ in the training squad are really midfielders.) I’d take *Connor Gallagher*, I reckon. Although, I’m not a 100% sure way. For much the same reason *Kobbie Mainoo*. As they say, the experience will be good for him. (After all, taking a sixteen year old Theo Walcott to a World Cup where he never touched a ball certainly ensured he fulfilled his potential.) I suspect each will only get on the pitch if we’re three-nil up with twenty minutes to go.
A shame for Adam Wharton and Curtis Jones, but really, they’re just not going to play. So why clutter up the team mini-bus? The extra space will mean the lads can take their big boomer earphones, rather than little push-in ones.
*Attack (Or, in this case, Mostly Midfield)*
*Harry Kane*’s first class birth is booked. He’s had a good season, and – even to an Arsenal fan like me – he’s pretty reliable in front of goal, and for the first pen in a game. Plus his post match interviews are always a scream. And, of course, seeing him fight over the ball with *Cole Palmer* if we get a penalty will be worth the licence fee alone. (Unless, that is, some broadcaster wants to snap me up and get me into the stadiums. I specialise in old-fashioned tackling, promoting Arsenal players and putting down those from Spurs – when they have any in the squad…) Talking of Cool Cole, I think he has to start on the left. Or perhaps as a number ten. *Bukaya Saka* is a shoe in, of course. It will be nice to him to play in a competition where the refs don’t turn a blind eye every time he is hacked to the ground by some lumbering Neanderthal or City full back.
That’s a pretty strong front three, with a lot of goals, threat and variety in them. As a combination, probably the strongest front line in the competition. The two behind them, if Solidity Southgate is brave enough, are just as good. *Phil Foden* has been out of this world for the last part of the season, and in *Jude Bellingham* there is a contender for that balloon made by the perfume company. What is it? Chanel? Armani? Yardley? No, I remember, D’or.
*Eberechi Ezi* offers an extra bit of difference which could be crucial from the bench. Plus, he can slot into midfield if needed. I’d take *Ollie Watkins* as the back up for Kane. Ivan Toney is very good, but has not got quite back to his best. The same can be said of Jack Grealish and James Maddison. I fear that Jarrod Bowen is one of those players who is excellent at club level, but slightly below top international standard. *Anthony Gordon* is very direct and skilful, but Ezi offers more variety. However, it would be good to have two back up wide players (plus Phil Foden) so he makes the plane, although probably won’t feature a lot.
So there’s the squad I, and my expert friend AJ, agree will lift the Euros. (And we’re not being in the slightest bit ambiguous there. For United fans, ‘ambiguous’ means, in this instance, hedging our bets). The starting eleven, assuming full fitness, should be:
*Aaron Ramsdale (but Gareth will pick Pickford)*
*Alexander Arnold (group stage) or Kyle Walker (knockouts)*
*John Stones*
*Mark Guehi (but the boss will go for Maguire)*
*Luke Shaw (but it will probably be Trippier or Konsa until Shaw is fully match fit.)*

*Declan Rice *
*(Plus Trent Alexander Arnold as a double defensive midfield block once games get tougher in the quarters)*
*Jude Bellingham*
*Phil Foden (moving wider left when the double defence comes in)*

*Bukaya Saka*
*Harry Kane*
*Cole Palmer (until Foden replaces him, most probably in the quarters)*

But, the maths whizz kids amongst you will have noticed, only twenty-three players appear in bold. What about the other half-handful of tickets booked for the cross channel ferry and second class continental carriage to the team’s luxury Premier Inn base? Well, that’s the great thing about me and AJ. Whilst the more, some would say, *recognised* tabloid journos will do Gareth’s entire job for him, picking his entire squad, we give our conductor the chance to pick his own musicians. Well, three of them at least. (And they are the triangle player, recorder and third harpist.)
Although, Mr Southgate, if you want some advice AJ suggests you go for *Toney, Branthwaite* and *Wharton*. The last two can give Kobbie a hand when it comes to carrying the oranges on at half time.

PS – to clarify, AJ is a former coach at Fulton Under 9 ‘Academy’, where he led the lads and lasses to an almost unbeaten season back in 1998. He has not looked back since.
PPS – AJ will be appearing with daily blogs on this website once the tournament begins. Unless something better comes along.
PPPS – Go to Amazon, search books and ‘Alan Peters’ and you’ll find a collection of fine works, including two from AJ himself, about the last two world cups.