There is no doubt Mason Greenwood meets the criteria for those who fuel Gareth Southgate’s optimism for the 2022 World Cup. “We’ve got some very exciting attacking players, many of whom aren’t yet the finished article,” said the England manager when announcing his squad for the latest round of qualifiers on Thursday and, with it, a contradiction at the heart of the Manchester United striker’s omission.
Per Inghilterra to take the next – and hardest – step from tournament runners-up to winners, Southgate explained, the young players at his disposal need to gain more experience before their arrival in Qatar. He was at pains to say qualification is not guaranteed, despite a 100% start to the qualifying campaign.
Greenwood, tuttavia, will spend the international break training with what remains of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s squad at Carrington rather than adding to his solitary England cap against Hungary, Andorra or Poland. He will not feature for the under-21s this week under the new manager, Lee Carsley, either, after Southgate decided that was unnecessary for the 19-year-old’s development.
Greenwood, should he wish, remains eligible to switch international allegiances to Jamaica given he is under 21 and has played fewer than three competitive senior matches for England. But Southgate has no concerns about losing the gifted forward to the Reggae Boyz and, having outlined his plans to the teenager, his family and United, believes the pathway for Greenwood is clear and open.
“Normally, I don’t get involved in the under-21s but he’s beyond that,” said Southgate. “I want to take a little bit more control of his development internationally. The dual nationality is a bit of a red herring. He 100% wants to play for England and there is no suggestion there is anything else there.”
Southgate has understandably stuck closely to the squad that reached England’s first major final in 55 anni per il World Cup qualifying triple-header, although the uncapped Patrick Bamford has been rewarded for his fine form for Leeds with a call-up. With 14 months until the World Cup finals there is limited time, and competitive opportunity, to find the improvement that the manager believes is required to better teams such as Italy and France on the biggest stage.
“We are constantly wanting to evolve and part of that is some of [il] younger players getting more experiences,” Southgate said. “In the biggest games, retaining possession under that intense pressure is something that we feel we can definitely be better at.
“One of the difficulties is you don’t always face those types of matches in between those big tournaments.
“We’ll have some tough games for sure, different types of challenge, but if we can nail the qualification for Qatar it is important that the matches we have after that, the level of them poses those sorts of questions.
“That’s why we’ve enjoyed the Nations League really, because although people question the extra competition, which I understand, the level of the games has been good for us. To play Belgium twice last autumn and Denmark, we learned a lot from those games and you do want that level of opponent as regularly as you can to improve the level of your own team.
“We can talk to the team about decision-making in certain moments, but there’s also an element that there are certain types of players in certain positions we don’t have. Therefore we have to play to our strengths and our capabilities.
“When we play a game like we did against Italy, people are always going to highlight their two midfield players [Jorginho and Marco Verratti] and say that’s the way forward. But if you don’t have that type of player then you’ve got to play differently. France didn’t have that type of player and won it in a different way. We’ve got to be the same. We’ve got to make the most of the assets we have and not worry about what we haven’t got.”
Southgate intends to speak with Tyrone Mings about the doubts the Aston Villa defender experienced before the opening game of the Euros against Croatia, when he replaced the injured Harry Maguire. Mings subsequently admitted his mental health suffered due to a belief that “90-95% of your country are having doubts about you”.
The defender’s performances at the European Championship, according Southgate, must have banished any reservations. “I saw the article. I think there’s a balance, that’s why I like the phrase ‘mental fitness’ as much as mental health.
“With mental health people immediately think of the more clinical areas and sometimes there can be performance anxiety, which seems to be what Tyrone was referring to when he was talking about the buildup to that first game and the doubts that he perhaps felt externally about whether he could cope.
“I sensed that in the lead into that first game and I talked to him a few times that week. We were very confident he could do that and he performed exceptionally well.
“I’m sure he took a huge amount of confidence from the way he played in the tournament having not experienced European club football in the past or experienced tournament football at that level of scrutiny.
“I thought he dealt exceptionally well with that. It is something I will pick up with him again when we are together, just to clarify, but that seemed to be the area he was talking about. When we talk about mental health there are lots of different areas and different feelings that people experience along that spectrum.”