Gareth Southgate says Raheem Sterling is “not particularly happy” to have been overlooked for an England recall.
The 28-year-old is one of the national team’s most experienced players but has not added to his 82 caps since December’s World Cup quarter-final exit to France.
Sterling missed the March meet-up through injury and a nagging hamstring issue led to what his camp described as a “mutual decision” to recuperate his body after a rocky first season at Chelsea.
But the forward’s expected return did not come to pass, with the forward the most eye-catching omission from Southgate’s 26-man squad for the Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine and friendly in Scotland.
“We were really pleased with the group (in June),” the England manager said.
“To bring Raheem back in we have to leave someone else out and on the back of three games I didn’t think anybody in this group of attacking players warrants being left out.
“It’s really good to see him start the season so well. He looks in good condition, he looks hungry.
“He’s obviously an important player for us and has been an important player for us.
“But we have in those attacking areas just behind the nine a lot of competition for places.
“I think all of those players have started the season well and certainly the group that are with us has done really well for us in the in the recent games.”
Put to the England boss that Sterling has missed three squads in a row, Southgate said: “He was not available for the last two and of course that’s given other people the opportunity to play well and to establish themselves in the group.
“It’s a difficult call and Raheem is not particularly happy about it, but I understand that because he’s an important player for us.
“I’m convinced he’s going to have an excellent season with Chelsea, there’s no doubt about that.”
Sterling has started Chelsea’s first three Premier League matches of the season, including scoring twice and providing an assist in Friday’s 3-0 win against Luton.
A statement from the player’s camp on Thursday read: “Raheem will revert to the coach for all comment but would like to reinforce that the decision has been respected. Raheem will continue to focus on his domestic form.”
While Sterling was overlooked, Southgate kept the faith with England vice-captain Jordan Henderson despite his controversial move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq.
There was also a place for former Manchester United captain Harry Maguire and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips, despite neither having played a minute of club football.
Harry Maguire retains his place in the squad despite not featuring for Manchester United this season (Martin Rickett/PA)“With Harry Maguire, we’ve lost a lot of experienced players in terms of caps at centre-half, so we’re giving some less experienced players the opportunity to come into the squad,” Southgate said.
“Unfortunately it looks like Tyrone (Mings) is out for most of the season. John Stones is out for this camp. Eric Dier hasn’t appeared in Tottenham’s squad.
“If I’m looking at all the players we’ve given caps to in the last few years, Conor Coady is also out and playing in the Championship now so there is a space there.
“I think, for these two games, it’s important we have some experience in that area of the pitch.
“Clearly with Harry and with Kalvin Phillips, it’s far from ideal that they’re not playing football.
“But similarly with Kalvin, I think Declan Rice was the only English player to start at the weekend as a single pivot and Kalvin is the next best positioned to do that.
“Hendo can play there, Conor Gallagher could play there, but it’s not the best position.
“We’ve got players play in the league that are playing in a double pivot. Someone like Angel Gomes is doing that but it’s a different sort of role.
“So, yeah, it’s not a good situation that those guys aren’t playing football but in certain positions we have a lot of depth in in other positions we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Southgate largely stuck with the tried and tested, but there was a place for uncapped Chelsea defender Levi Colwill and, more surprisingly, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah.
“Two young players who are doing very well, who have done well with our junior teams,” Southgate said. “Levi, of course, had some time with us in the summer anyway.
“Eddie is coming in because it’s an area where we’d like to have a look at him.
“He’s a young player with a really good pedigree, very good finisher and it’s good for him to have some time with us.
“I think he’s record goalscorer with the Under-21s as well.
“He’s not had the chance to work with us up to this point but he’s a player that we’re really interested in.”