Why Gareth Southgate was right to axe Spurs' James Maddison from Euro 2024 squad

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
James Maddison has become the first player to miss out on the England squad - and this time, the Tottenham man should be left at home.

Cat Stevens may have believed that the first cut was the deepest, but Gareth Southgate plainly disagreed – the first cut was, in fact, James Maddison. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder won’t be going to Euro 2024 after all having been announced as the first player to be whittled out of the 33-player training squad, and on the face of it, it’s hard to argue with his exclusion.

It’s strange to think that, little more than 18 months ago, Maddison was the subject of the traditional nationwide ‘clamouring’ for inclusion in a major tournament squad thanks to his superb form for Leicester City in the build-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Southgate bowed to the baying of the masses on that occasion, but Maddison never made it onto the pitch come the tournament. This time, he won’t even make it as far as the plane.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Southgate, for his part, has never seemed to be fully convinced by Maddison, or at least by how he fits into his set-up. He has been used sparingly, almost begrudgingly. But while there was a lot of evidence from his time at Leicester to suggest that he deserved a role in the England team – 22 goals and 17 assists in his last two seasons at the King Power Stadium – he has been less convincing since completing a £40m move to North London.

Which isn’t to say he’s played badly, by any means. By some statistical measures, he has improved under Ange Postecoglou – his passing accuracy is up across every distance, he’s dribbling the ball more efficiently and even generating more shooting chances for his team-mates – but while he’s maintained his efficiency as a provider and creator, he’s lost his cutting edge in front of goal, scoring just four times. He’s been good - he just hasn’t been the marauding, piratical, dangerous number ten of old.

And at international level, it isn’t just about how good a player is, it’s about what they produce. There is less time for a manager to develop a refined system and fewer opportunities to figure out how each cog might fit into the machine. It’s more important to find players who can score a goal or play a killer pass as often as possible, regardless of the depth of understanding they have with their team-mates, and with a single-striker formation, goals from midfield are crucial.

Maddison has yet to score in his seven England caps, and with his form in front of goal wilting at Spurs, the case for inclusion in the final squad recedes. By contrast, Jude Bellingham wound up as the third-highest goalscorer in La Liga. Phil Foden, who might well play through the middle if Bellingham should be injured or suspended, scored 19 league goals, his best season in front of goal by a distance. Eberechi Eze hit double figures for the second consecutive season. Cole Palmer hit 22. On current form, if you had to turn to one of them in the depths of extra time of a knock-out match, desperate for a goal to stay alive in the tournament, Maddison isn’t the man you would turn to.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A similar logic applies up front, where Ollie Watkins seems to be the frontrunner to be the reserve striker ahead of Ivan Toney. Watkins has seldom been at his best in an England shirt and he doesn’t fit comfortably in a tactical system designed primarily for Harry Kane, but if you’re stuck chasing a game, he’s the man you’d want that last-gasp chance to fall to right now. Come the next World Cup, perhaps Toney will be the man in better nick and Watkins drops out of the reckoning. It isn’t about who the better player is week in, week out, but what they might be able to do for their country when the chips are down.

And so Maddison must head back to London to spend the summer watching the European Championship at home, this time without the prospect of a public outcry to cheer him up. Adam Wharton has taken up the mantle of official clamouree instead. You only get to be clamoured for once in this life.

Maddison will be joined at home by Curtis Jones and Jarell Quansah, the Liverpool pair who always seemed like long shots for a place. Jones is a victim of his playing style, which doesn’t suit Southgate’s double pivot very neatly, while Quansah is young and simply a little too far down the present pecking order. Neither cut has surprised anyone. Their time will come.

That leaves Southgate with four more hard decisions to make – or, more accurately, three, as nobody really anticipates that James Trafford will get a place in the final 26-man squad. One of the central midfielders will probably miss out, and at least one more attacking player will get the chop. After that, it’s either a defender or another option up front or on the wings, depending on what Southgate thinks he might need the most and on whether Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire are physically capable of playing. But Maddison’s England dream is over for another year, and until he can rediscover his most lethal form, he probably shouldn’t be in the reckoning either.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.