Harry Kane’s ankle injury, numerous selection headaches and a potential World Cup boycott provide the backdrop for Gareth Southgate as the England manager prepares to name his squad on Thursday.
Ahead of this month’s warm-up friendlies against Holland and Italy, the Three Lions’ final selection before the group heading to Russia is named will be announced at St George’s Park.
Talk about the players involved will be interspersed by questions regarding England’s participation at the World Cup given the current political tensions between the UK and hosts Russia.
Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that UK dignitaries, including members of the royal family, will not attend this summer’s tournament as the fallout to the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia continues.
Russia has denied any involvement in the Salisbury attack and the Foreign Office has now warned those travelling to Russia in the coming weeks about the “possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time”.
When asked in the Commons about Football Association senior officials travelling to the World Cup, Mrs May said she was “sure they will want to be considering their position” but stressed it was their decision to make. Press Association Sport understands Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has been in contact with the FA to reinforce the Prime Minister’s message.
A statement from the FA in the wake of Mrs May’s comments read: “The FA will continue to work closely with the UK Government and relevant authorities regarding our participation in this summer’s FIFA World Cup and the Women’s World Cup qualifier in June.
“Our priority for all England matches is to ensure the safety and security of the fans, players and staff. As is standard practice, we will take all travel guidance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
Boycotting the World Cup would appear an extreme – and unlikely – measure for the FA to take, but it is a subject that is sure to be broached on Thursday alongside questions about Southgate’s squad.
It is now only three months until the finals and preparations have been hampered somewhat by the injury to star turn Kane, with Tottenham confirming preliminary assessments show damage to the lateral ligaments in his right ankle.
Spurs expect the 24-year-old to return to first-team training next month, meaning the man tipped by many to wear the captain’s armband in Russia will miss his second straight international meet-up.
“Disappointing to be out until next month but injuries are part of the game,” Kane wrote on Twitter. “Will do everything I can to get back out there asap.”
Fellow attacker Marcus Rashford’s return to the Manchester United starting line-up has been a welcome boost, so too the fine form of Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck’s minutes at Arsenal.
Theo Walcott is also now getting regular football at Everton, but things are not going well for other forwards given a chance during Southgate’s reign such as Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke, Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge.
Uncapped Callum Wilson, Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes – a former Austria youth international – have done well this term, while Jamaal Lascelles, James Tarkowski and Alfie Mawson have been earmarked as potential options for a three-man defence troubled by a lack of game-time, form and fitness.
Experienced Joe Hart’s role poses an interesting headache given his lack of game time and uncapped Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope is pushing to come in.
Adam Lallana is back from injury, but midfield continues to be a problem area as Ruben Loftus-Cheek – man-of-the-match on his debut against Germany – is coming back from an ankle injury sustained in December.
Nathaniel Chalobah remains sidelined, Harry Winks has not enjoyed a continued run at Tottenham and Jake Livermore could pay for his West Brom drop-off, but Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are pushing for recalls.