Football - Southgate
Gareth Southgate has been managing England since 2016 Image Credit: AFP

England look set to head into Euro 2024 with a bolder and wiser Gareth Southgate at the helm.

The England manager has long been criticised for calling up players that are out form, but after trimming his England squad from 33 to 26 players for next week's European Championship, it appears Southgate has learned from his errors in the past.

Just three months ago, Southgate was ridiculed for including an out of sorts Jordan Henderson in the squad for friendlies against Brazil and Belgium.

The 33-year-old had started the season at Saudi Arabia’s Al Ettifaq before an underwhelming move to Ajax in the lead up to the two games.

In reality, he should have been nowhere near the squad.

But that version of Southgate looks to have been left in the past, with the omission of Jack Grealish from the final 26 heading to Germany a major talking point.

Grealish offers something a little different to the rest of England’s strong attacking choices, and can terrify defenders on his day.

In the 22/23 Premier League season, having arrived a year earlier for £100m from Aston Villa, he played a pivotal role in helping Manchester City secure a historic treble.

Across his 50 appearances that season, the Birmingham-born star scored five goals and set up a further 11. The 23/24 season wasn’t an impressive, with Grealish contributing a combined six goals and assists in 36 appearances.

Jack Grealish didn't deliver often enough in the 23/24 season Image Credit: AP

While the dramatic drop in goal contributions is the stand out stat there, it’s the appearances you should really be paying attention too.

A total of 14 fewer appearances than the season before. Put simply, Pep Guardiola didn’t trust him enough to get the job done for the Citizens.

At the tail-end of the season, with Arsenal hot on their heels for the Premier League title, Grealish only started one of their final four games and didn’t even make it onto the pitch at all for two of them.

In need of a goal in the FA Cup Final after falling behind to local rivals Manchester United, Guardiola again opted to use different options off the bench rather than Grealish.

If Guardiola doesn’t trust him to deliver, why should Southgate?

My friends disagree and believe he offers something different. This is correct, he does. He regularly drops back to receive the ball before finding a key pass to unlock a defence.

He isn’t your typical winger.

But the fact is, he hasn’t been doing it often enough to justify a spot in Southgate's squad.

Why should the likes of Anthony Gordon, Jarrod Bowen and Eberechi Eze – all of whom have had fantastic seasons –miss out just because Grealish has delivered in the past?

Players should be picked on form.

Something Southgate is now doing after leaving out Henderson and Marcus Rashford from the original 33-man squad, before cutting Grealish from the 26.

Braithwaite unfortunate to not make the cut

Southgate has got all the big calls right so far, bar one.

He should have selected Jarrad Branthwaite ahead of Lewis Dunk. You could quite easily make an argument for both of them, but Branthwaite’s ceiling is far higher than Dunk’s will ever be.

At the age of 21, 11 years younger than Dunk, he has been a mainstay for Everton this season and one of the breakthrough stars of last season’s Premier League campaign.

His composure on the ball and technical ability make him a cert to be one of England main men for years to come, especially given England’s lack of ability at the back.

Everton's Jarrad Branthwaite after the thrashing by Spurs
Branthwaite (R) was voted Everton's Players’ Player of the Season Image Credit: Reuters

There’s also the small matter of him being left-footed. England only have one other defender who is left-footed and he comes in the form of Luke Shaw, who is currently injured and unlikely to figure until the latter stages of the group stage.

The chances of either Branthwaite or Dunk starting at the Euros are pretty much slim to none, barring an injury crisis, but Southgate should have been bold here and given the youngster the experience of being part of a major international tournament.

All said and done, this is a strong team, and one that can go far this campiagn.

The next step? Letting England's star attacking names off the leash and ending 58 years of hurt.