London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate insist Harry Maguire can still thrive at the highest level as the beleaguered England defender prepares to return in Tuesday’s friendly against Ivory Coast.
Maguire was left on the bench for Saturday’s 2-1 win over Switzerland as Southgate took the centre-back out of the spotlight after a torrid season with Manchester United.
The 29-year-old has struggled badly this term, leading to calls for Southgate to axe him from the England squad.
But Southgate is planning widespread changes for England’s first senior meeting with Ivory Coast and Maguire is among those set to start at Wembley.
That is partly because centre-back is one of the positions in which Southgate has few proven options, as the shaky displays from international novices Ben White, Marc Guehi and Conor Coady showed against Switzerland.
“H has got us to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final, so there’s no doubt he is more than capable of playing at the highest level,” Southgate told reporters on Monday.
“He was very good for us in the autumn and, yeah, the club are in a difficult moment. There could be any number of reasons for that.”
Regardless of the relative paucity of defensive options, Southgate hinted Maguire should not take for granted his place at the World Cup in Qatar later this year if his form doesn’t improve.
“In terms of selection, that’s always a difficult conundrum because we’ve got players who we know have performed well in an England shirt,” he said.
“There’s got to be some level of scrutiny on how people are playing with their clubs because that has got to be a factor in it.
“That doesn’t mean that players can be poor for a couple of years and then still find their way in and sometimes it depends on competition for positions.
“We’ve obviously left some forward players out, who haven’t been in good form, but there’s direct replacements, experienced replacements, for those players. As I say, it is a complicated decision.”
Harry Kane’s match-winning penalty against the Swiss took him level with Bobby Charlton on 49 international goals, just four behind England’s all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney.
But England captain Kane may not get the chance to add to that tally from the start on Tuesday as Southgate rings the changes.
“If he had his way he’d play 90 minutes of every fixture, which is a brilliant quality to have because if your captain wants to be at every camp and playing every minute of every game then that sets the tone for everything else,” he said.
“The fact is we’ve got a good squad, we want to keep people involved and give people opportunities.
“We need to see certain things across the week to see how people can play at the level, so we’ll make those decisions on when he plays and doesn’t play.”
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