England manager Gareth Southgate says he would never risk Bukayo Saka’s long-term fitness by selecting him to play when he is not fit.
Saka was included in Southgate’s 26-man squad for forthcoming games against Australia and Italy, despite limping out of Arsenal’s last three games.
He is being assessed ahead of this Sunday’s Premier League clash with Manchester City before the squad is due to meet up early next week.
Here it is: your #ThreeLions squad for October!
— England (@England) October 5, 2023
Southgate says he wants his best players available for the biggest games, with a crunch European Championship clash against Italy at Wembley on October 17, but never to the detriment of their health.
“I can only go via what Mikel (Arteta) has said about the last few games,” Southgate said regarding Saka’s fitness. “He is in contention for the weekend so we’ve obviously got a very important qualifier.
“We look after the players as well as any country. There’s always a focus on our players because they are playing their club football, in the main, in England and then we are playing here as well.
“Whereas all the other countries call the players that are playing in the Premier League and nobody looks at how they look after them and how they train them.
“When we have really good dialogue with all of their clubs, I think they pretty much all would agree that we probably give better feedback than every other nation.
“They have trust in us that we make decisions that are right for the long-term whenever we can. We only have 10 matches a year. And there’s been times when … Bukayo, for example, we haven’t always played.
“But there are certain key games where if it’s possible to have your best players then you do want to have them. So we’ve got that responsibility of qualifying for the country but … I’ve been a player … I’ve never ever taken a risk on a player’s physical wellbeing. And nor would I.”
Raheem Sterling was left out again, with Southgate explaining his side are no longer reliant on the Chelsea forward to supplement Harry Kane’s goals.
The England boss continued: “We know what Raheem is capable of and (Jarrod) Bowen has got five (goals) in seven (games), so in terms of the opportunity opened up with (Eberechi) Eze and (Callum) Wilson out, (Ollie) Watkins and Bowen are both in a hot streak of form. That’s the thinking.
“In the end, we’ve got brilliant competition for places in several areas of the pitch.
“There is a battle now, without a doubt. For a long period of time Raheem was the one that was scoring goals for us and his club.
“We now have goals from Saka, (Phil) Foden, (Marcus) Rashford. Rashford’s always been a scorer with us.
“(Jack) Grealish is a different type of wide player, so now we’re getting goals from Jude (Bellingham).
“We’re not just reliant on Harry Kane. For a long time it was Harry and Raheem that were knocking up the goals. But there’s a different competition in place.”