Rooney out of England squad but could play for Manchester United at Middlesbrough
Gareth Southgate left England captain Wayne Rooney out of his squad to face Germany and Lithuania despite learning the Manchester United forward may be fit to play for his club this weekend.
The decision to recall 34-year-old Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe was the headline selection among Southgate’s 26-man party for a friendly against the world champions next Wednesday, before Lithuania visit Wembley four days later for a World Cup qualifier.
Injuries to Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge played a part in that call, while a knee problem means Rooney will not play in United’s Europa League match against Rostov on Thursday.
However, Southgate said the 31-year-old could feature when Jose Mourinho’s side head to Middlesbrough at the weekend and that Rooney’s lack of recent action influenced his thinking.
"I’ve talked with Wayne and I think there’s a chance he’s fit for the weekend," he said, having dropped Rooney from the starting line-up in Slovenia last October.
"But the injury, coupled with the fact he’s not had a lot of game time recently has determined my decision on that one."
Rooney is the record goalscorer for club and country, but has struggled for his best form this season.
He has five goals in 30 appearances for United this term, starting only nine times in the Premier League, while he was at the centre of tabloid controversy during the previous international break in November after photographs emerged of Rooney allegedly drinking in between England’s matches with Scotland and Spain.
Despite Sunderland propping up the Premier League table, Defoe has caught the eye with 14 goals in 27 games and Southgate did not want to rule out the ex-Tottenham and West Ham star based on his advancing years.
"I didn’t want to just look at his age and think he’s finished with England," Southgate explained. "He is someone who is immensely proud to have represented England at every age group.
"You get younger players with a point to prove and older players with a point to prove and I think he still feels that.
"We are nodding towards the future with this squad, but you need senior players around that to help the younger players to learn
"One of the things I want to create is competition for places and in the squad we’ve named we’re doing that in different ways
"It can’t be a comfortable environment when people think they are going to be in every time."
Southampton duo James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond have earned maiden senior call-ups and will aim for their first caps alongside Burnley defender Michael Keane and West Ham winger Michail Antonio.
Here’s what @GarethSouthgate has had to say about #ThreeLions call-ups for @NathanRedmond22 and @Prowsey16: https://t.co/DPCfP5tYqd
— England (@England) March 16, 2017
Ross Barkley has been rewarded for impressive form with Everton, while West Brom’s Jake Livermore is also included among a midfield lacking injured Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson. Livermore’s only previous cap came against Italy in August 2012.
Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and West Ham’s Andy Carrol are not involved despite the shortage of forwards and Southgate sympathised with their plight.
"Theo has a really valid claim for being included," he added. "He’s scored a lot of goals for his club, he’s obviously featured a lot for England.
"In terms of having him in the longer squad I wanted to look at a few players I don’t know as much about.
"It’s a tough call on him and one I don’t expect him to be chuffed about. If he keeps playing well for his club I see no reason why he can’t force his way back in
"Andy I don’t think has played enough [through injury] – a little bit like Danny Welbeck, who’s a player I like."