Gareth Southgate has defended his decision to select Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson for England and insists each ‘have performed’ in ‘massive games’ for the Three Lions.
Henderson was booed by the home crowd during the 1-0 win over Australia on Friday, while Maguire has also been subject of criticism and jeers while wearing an England shirt.
England take on Italy this evening and can confirm their place at the 2024 European Championship with a positive result at Wembley. Ahead of the clash, Southgate defended Maguire and Henderson and said each have been important to his squad in recent campaigns.
“I will assess our strongest team. I am going to defend our players and our team because we need that unity and strength,” Southgate said at a pre-match press conference.
“The two players have performed for us in massive games, their quality and experience are unmeasurable factors because of that group, togetherness and spirit that have brought us big results, those characters are the reason we have had big nights.”
Henderson was booed during Friday’s fixture in a reaction to the midfielder’s decision to leave the Premier League for Saudi Arabia during the summer.
The former Liverpool captain has been criticised for his decision to sign for Al-Ettifaq, having previously been a vocal ally for the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
Southgate, however, insists his selections are not based off popularity and says he will continue to choose players based on their performance for the national team.
“Absolutely. I will always pick the best players to pick the team, to give us the best chance of winning unless there is something not appropriate. People may disagree with Jordan’s stance given the stance he has taken, but I don’t think that is a reason not to select him and it’s not a reason to boo him.
“We would like the fans behind us, we are a stronger team if the supporters are with us. That’s the connection we have had for a long period of time. If I select a popularity contest, the team would look different.”