The announcement was the usual gimmicky mess, but wipe away the Football Association’s desperation to be down with the kids and Gareth Southgate’s 2018 World Cup squad was all business.
The least experienced since 1962, yes, but this was no maverick, left-field selection. From the rejection of Joe Hart as goalkeeper-cheerleader, to the omission of Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana through injury, to nods for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, these were 23 names picked with the coolest of logic.
Form was a factor, versatility and balance, too. One player, Ashley Young, could occupy as many as six roles if required. Southgate, a midfielder turned centre back, who then stepped forward into midfield again when required during Euro 96, recognises the worth of adaptability at international level.
The England World Cup squad named by Gareth Southgate is the least experienced since 1962
Trent Alexander-Arnold is included in the 23, despite not having yet won a senior England cap
Fitness, too. It must have been a very hard call to omit Lallana, who has strived so hard to get fit for the end of this season.
Less so Wilshere, whose withdrawal from the last international squad served as a timely reminder that successful plans cannot be built on such fragile foundations.
Southgate kept faith with Hart as long as he could, too — but ultimately he recognised that a goalkeeper who cannot command a place in a struggling West Ham team cannot go to the World Cup, even as third choice.
So what do we glean from this? Certainly, that Kyle Walker is now England’s right-sided central defender.
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was left out of the final squad by the England manager
Joe Hart has won 75 caps for his country but is not among Southgate’s three goalkeepers
The decision to include Alexander-Arnold suggests Walker is no longer seen as a right back — no squad needs three right backs — or as the man to switch to his old position were Kieran Trippier injured.
Maybe Jurgen Klopp’s recent experiment with Alexander-Arnold in midfield at Liverpool was another factor, with Southgate perhaps undecided on Jordan Henderson’s partner.
Either way, it is a call that responds to form and promise and shows an England manager who is not afraid to take risks even with the tournament a month away.
It was very logical and very Southgate. On paper, this is a smart squad indeed.
Now for the real stuff.