Southgate tells Maddison he could START England's World Cup opener

‘Why not? We have to have an open mind’: Gareth Southgate tells James Maddison he could START England’s World Cup opener against Iran after his recall for Qatar

  • James Maddison was one of the big calls made in England’s World Cup squad 
  • The 25-year-old Leicester midfielder has not played for England since 2019  
  • Gareth Southgate has rewarded Maddison for his excellent form for Leicester 
  • The England boss has even hinted that Maddison could start against Iran

England manager Gareth Southgate has told James Maddison he could be in the side for the World Cup opener against Iran after ending the midfielder’s three-year international exile.

The selection of Leicester’s Maddison was the main shock of Thursday’s World Cup squad announcement, while Callum Wilson and Conor Gallagher — a selection mooted by Sportsmail on Thursday — were also surprise picks.

Maddison has not played for England since November 2019. In October that year he was photographed in a casino within days of withdrawing from the squad through illness.

Gareth Southgate has rewarded James Maddison for his excellent form with an England recall

Maddison has worked his way into the team just in time having not played since 2019

Asked if Maddison could now be thrown straight in against Iran a week on Monday, Southgate said: ‘Why not? Why would any of the 26 arrive thinking they haven’t got a chance of getting in?

‘Some will know they have a more realistic chance than others because they will know the experience of players who may have been playing more regularly and the form of the players. But we have an open mind.

‘Things change quickly and we need competition for places. They have to drive each other. At the same time, they have to support each other. We have to mould that group again and get them thinking about what it has taken to go a long way in previous tournaments.

Southgate announced his squad for the Qatar World Cup on Thursday – making some big calls

‘So there is that internal push for places but also that collective camaraderie that is so important.

‘James is playing really well, we have always said he is a good player. He has earned the right to be picked. We think he can give us something slightly different to the other attacking players we have got. He has a different threat and we might need that.’

There had been a clamour for Southgate to select Maddison again after a string of sensational displays this season. And the manager made a point of phoning him to give him the good news personally.

Elsewhere, Manchester City pair Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips were included despite recent operations, and Marcus Rashford and Ben White were handed recalls after impressive starts to the season.

James Ward-Prowse, Ivan Toney, Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori and Jarrod Bowen, who were all in the last squad, did not make the cut for Qatar.

Southgate called Maddison on Thursday morning after speculation he might not get a call-up

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