Forget Harry Maguire - the West Ham travesty of Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad selection

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James Ward-Prowse has not been included in the Three Lions’ party for their upcoming matches against Ukraine and Scotland

I’m going to try and do something that Gareth Southgate seems incapable of attempting - formulate a thought process about an England squad without it including Harry Maguire. Wait... Dagnabbit.

On Thursday, the Waistcoated One named his contingent for the Three Lions’ upcoming double-headed international sojourn; part the first is a European Championship qualifier against Ukraine, part the second is a 150th anniversary exhibition against the Auld Enemy, Scotland. Time really flies when you’re having no fun whatsoever, apart from very briefly in 1966.

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As always, Southgate’s selection has furrowed the brow of just about every football fan in the country for one reason or another. The aforementioned Maguire’s continued involvement has sparked an apoplexy usually reserved for people who toe punt small animals, Kalvin Phillips has sneaked his way in despite retaining the title of ‘Etihad hide and seek champion’ for a full 13 months running now, and - without bothering to verify this in any way, shape, or form - I feel relatively confident in asserting that Jordan Henderson becomes the first player stationed in the Saudi Pro League to receive an England call-up.

England manager Gareth Southgate. The Three Lions’ boss has named his latest squad for upcoming fixtures against Ukraine and Scotland.England manager Gareth Southgate. The Three Lions’ boss has named his latest squad for upcoming fixtures against Ukraine and Scotland.
England manager Gareth Southgate. The Three Lions’ boss has named his latest squad for upcoming fixtures against Ukraine and Scotland. | Getty Images

Elsewhere, there is better news regarding Levi Colwill, Lewis Dunk, and Eddie Nketiah - a trifecta who would suggest that meritocracy is still just about clinging to life. Although, in the case of Nketiah, it is hard to shake the lingering suspicion that he has been included in an effort to thwart a potential switch of international allegiance to Ghana, a bit like licking a donut and putting it back in the box to claim it as your own.

Really though, this is an England squad sculpted as much by its absences as it is by its inclusions. There is, for instance, no Nick Pope - although, judging by the chagrin of the Geordie nation, you would be justified in presuming that Southgate had in fact stuck a crooked middle finger up at the actual Pope. Then there is the lack of Raheem Sterling, an omission that will surely prove fleeting if his early-season form for Chelsea continues to blossom and bloom. Solly March, meanwhile, must be sat on Brighton beach, cheeks stained with tears, wistfully skipping pebbles into the sea as he wonders what more he can possibly do.

Perhaps the biggest injustice of all, however, belongs to James Ward-Prowse. Quite how the West Ham midfielder has been overlooked in favour of the likes of Phillips, who is approximately a fortnight away from appearing on the side of your daily milk carton, and Henderson, who throttled his own reputation with a pair of disregarded rainbow laces, is beyond me.

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At Southampton, he was often the only aspirational glimmer in an otherwise despondent mess. At the London Stadium, he is absolutely thriving and has already got supporters asking whether the sale of Declan Rice was such a catastrophe after all. In two claret and blue Premier League outings, he has registered three goal contributions; he is very much in the ambrosial prime of his career (at 28, he still has a solid few years before he is beset by whatever strange phenomenon it is that indiscriminately turns the brains of former Saints icons into gelatinous paranoid blobs of conspiratorial grey mush); and I am seriously, seriously considering wagering the entire nest egg of my life savings on him scoring directly from a corner this season.

Nobody in West Ham’s squad - except those who have played less than a quarter of an hour - has a higher pass completion rate at the present moment in time, nobody has made more interceptions, and only Jarrod Bowen (who may also feel aggrieved by Southgate’s selection process) has registered a greater average match rating, as per Whoscored.

In short, Ward-Prowse is a wonderful player with much to offer. How the England manager can not see this, or can see it and is choosing to ignore it, is frankly baffling. You would imagine that over the course of the coming weeks and months, the midfielder will continue to perform at such a level that his exclusion becomes inexcusable. We saw a similar thing with James Maddison last year. But in the meantime, the fledgling Hammer has every right to feel more than a little bit swindled.

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