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Gareth Southgate: Harry Maguire ‘more than capable of playing at highest level’

Ukraine v England – UEFA Euro 2020 – Quarter Final – Stadio Olimpico
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

Harry Maguire retains the faith of England manager Gareth Southgate as the under-fire Manchester United captain prepares to line up in Tuesday’s friendly against Ivory Coast.

The Three Lions kicked off World Cup preparations with a hard-fought 2-1 comeback win in Saturday’s friendly against Switzerland at Wembley, where they return to take on non-European opposition for the first time since 2018.

Southgate is planning widespread changes as England and Ivory Coast meet in a senior international for the first time, with Maguire among those set to start under the arch.

England Training – Hotspur Way Training Ground – Monday 28th March

Gareth Southgate is planning widespread changes for Tuesday’s friendly against Ivory Coast (Adam Davy/PA)

The 29-year-old has struggled for form during a difficult season as a collective at United but the Three Lions boss has always kept faith with the centre-back.

“I hope we have an environment that all the players feel they can be the best versions of themselves,” Southgate said. “A lot of that is credit to the environment they have created.

“We have got super characters. I am looking at the young players coming in, the older players are all sitting with them at meal times, making them feel relaxed and at ease.

“Then there’s clarity on your job, on the pitch, what’s expected of you. I think they are things we have to achieve to let people perform at the best level.

“In terms of selection, that’s always a difficult conundrum because we’ve got players who we know have performed well in an England shirt.

“There’s got to be some level of scrutiny on how people are playing with their clubs because that has got to be a factor in it.

“Then, not so for this week, who is the opponent, who is best suited to playing against the opponent, so it is a complicated thing.

“I know everybody has a view on who we should and shouldn’t be picking.

“In the end we need the best players possible, playing at their best level to give ourselves the best chance of winning.”

Pushed on Maguire in particular, Southgate said: “Well, he has got us to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final, so there’s no doubt he is more than capable of playing at the highest level.

“He was very good for us in the autumn and, yeah, the club are in a difficult moment. There could be any number of reasons for that.

England Training – Hotspur Way Training Ground – Monday 28th March

Harry Kane (left) is keen to add to his tally of 49 international goals (Adam Davy/PA)

“That doesn’t mean that players can be poor for a couple of years and then still find their way in and sometimes it depends on competition for positions.

“We’ve obviously left some forward players out, who haven’t been in good form, but there’s direct replacements, experienced replacements, for those players. As I say, it is a complicated decision.“

All 24 remaining players practiced at Tottenham’s training ground on the eve of the friendly, but it remains to be seen whether Emile Smith Rowe and John Stones are able to start after missing the Switzerland encounter.

Harry Kane’s match-winning spot-kick completed the win that night and took him level with Sir Bobby Charlton on 49 international goals, putting him four behind England’s all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney.

It seems unlikely that the skipper will get the chance to add to that tally from the start on Tuesday but Southgate says the skipper’s enthusiasm is infectious.

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“If he had his way he’d play 90 minutes of every fixture, which is a brilliant quality to have because if your captain wants to be at every camp and playing every minute of every game then that sets the tone for everything else,” he said.

“The fact is we’ve got a good squad, we want to keep people involved and give people opportunities.

“We need to see certain things across the week to see how people can play at the level, so we’ll make those decisions on when he plays and doesn’t play.

“But I repeat, it is a good quality to have and that’s why he has got the number of caps he has (68).

“I always used to talk about the Gerrards, the Lampards and the Ashley Coles. They got the number of caps they have because they committed every time they came to England and that is what you want.”

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