Gareth Southgate has revealed that Mason Greenwood asked not to be considered for selection by England during the first half of this season and Jude Bellingham requested that he be stood down last month.
The England manager, who is frustrated that Callum Hudson-Odoi has again refused an under-21s call-up, has included Bellingham in his squad for this month’s World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino.
Southgate has recalled Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford after injury but he has dropped Jadon Sancho, Jesse Lingard, Kieran Trippier, Fikayo Tomori and Ollie Watkins.
Greenwood was given his senior debut by Southgate in September of last year as a substitute against Iceland and was then sent home with Phil Foden after they invited two women to the team hotel in breach of Covid regulations.
Greenwood has not played for England since, although he was named in the 33-man provisional squad for the Euro 2020 finals. It has been a curiosity, to say the least, as to why that has happened, given the progress he has made at Manchester United. The 20-year-old has played 118 times in all competitions for the club, scoring 33 goals.
Southgate faced uncomfortable questions over whether some of his young players were picking and choosing their games but he described the cases of Greenwood and Bellingham, 18, as mere “development challenges”. He said Bellingham, who has eight caps, “felt he needed a break” against Andorra and Hungary last month after a punishing season with Borussia Dortmund last time out and little respite after the Euros.
“I would understand that [the notion of picking and choosing] if we were talking about older players,” Southgate said. “I cannot talk as much about Callum because we would like him to be with the under-21s. He feels he would be best served staking a case for the team with Chelsea. I think he has a better chance of impressing us if he is with the under-21s as well, frankly.
“With the other two boys, these are young player development issues. We have to think about their physical development. Jude, in particular … for him to have had a couple of weeks to recharge was really important.”
Southgate said Greenwood wanted to concentrate on establishing himself at United and added there was “no suggestion that what happened before is affecting things” – presumably a reference to Iceland.
“We had a discussion before the camp in September and we came to an agreement,” Southgate said. “John McDermott [the FA’s technical director] and myself went to United and had a good chat with Mason and his family and we agreed we would park this until next year, basically. We would leave the autumn games.
“If he establishes himself in Manchester United’s team then he is going to be very close to an England squad or an England team so he recognises that. He wants to play for England. He is clear about that. We are not not picking Mason because we don’t think he’s good enough or we are not happy with what he requested. We are totally understanding of that and we are happy to wait.
“Also we have seen lots of youth development and this is his and his family’s one and only chance, so they are understandably more cautious than we might be. We believe these boys can be very big players for England in the long term and we don’t want to get it wrong in the short term.”
Sancho has struggled in a struggling United team this season after his £73m move from Dortmund, failing to score or provide an assist in 12 appearances. Southgate called him up last month to get him on the field for the first time in an England shirt since his shootout miss in the Euro final and Sancho got two assists in the 5-0 win over Andorra. His poor club form has caught up with him.
“We can support and back but in the end you cannot do that forever,” Southgate said. “There has to be a point where you say: ‘OK, the route here is we have to bring in different players who are playing regularly and can perform for us this time around.’ There is no point carrying lads if we don’t think we can use them.”
It was put to Southgate that Sancho had got to the top very quickly. “I would say that is how people view a lot of our young players,” Southgate said. “But what is the top? These boys are still learning the game, how to be professionals. Jadon is adapting to a new club, a different style of play. So they’re not at the top yet. They’re young players making their way.”