Gareth Southgate will be able to select 26 players as part of England ‘s squad for the World Cup in Qatar, a decision which the Three Lions boss has previously warned could have a negative effect on his team.
FIFA have confirmed that international managers will no longer be restricted to squads made up of 23 players, expanding the selection to 26. That was what UEFA did for Euro 2020 last summer amid fears that Covid-19 could whittle down teams’ options mid-tournament. However, only 23 players were allowed in matchday squads, meaning that three players still missed out.
It was in the lead-up to that competition – which England reached the final of – when Southgate expressed his concerns, telling BeIN Sports : “Personally I wouldn’t want to have too big of a squad. I think there’s a skill in picking a 23. I think you end up with a lot of players not playing anyway and it’s difficult to manage, it’s hard for the squad to come through. So, I can understand it but I’m not 100 per cent sure if I’m for it.”
The 51-year-old added earlier this year: “Whether a bigger squad is necessary… originally that was for Covid, there’s now people talking about the condensed fixtures. I still think it’s a bigger skill to pick a 23 and to work all that out. But that decision will be made and I suspect it will be 26. But I think everybody has to be available for all the games.”
With growing concerns over player welfare, however, FIFA has decided to give coaches a larger roster to choose from in Qatar – the first World Cup taking between mid-season for countries such as England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
Explaining the decision, FIFA said: “Given the need to retain additional flexibility due to the unique timing of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in the global calendar, as well as the broader context of the disruptive effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on squads before and during tournaments, the Bureau has decided the following…
“The maximum number of players on the release list has been increased from 35 to 55. The number of players to be included on the final list has been increased to at least 23 and a maximum of 26. The final matchday at club level for the 23 to 26 players nominated on the final list will be 13 November 2022. No more than 26 people (up to 15 substitutes and 11 team officials – one of these officials must be the team doctor) will be allowed to sit on the team bench.”
The Three Lions only play two more matches before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday, November 21, a pair of Nations League matches in September. Southgate is under serious pressure to go deep into the knockout stages, particularly after returning from June’s fixtures with a pair of middling draws against Germany and Italy and two embarrassing losses to Hungary.
Join the debate! Should FIFA have expanded the World Cup squads to 26? Tell us your verdict in the comments section.
Thankfully for the ex-under-21s gaffer, the FA have publicly backed him to deliver after they handed him a new contract until December 2024 late last year. Chairwoman Debbie Hewitt recently stated: “Clearly we did that with proper discussion and thought. The fact that there’s been a stumble does not make us automatically say, ‘Should we have given him a contract?’. It is a red herring.”
She added: “Absolutely I’ve spoken to him, yes. Gareth’s reaction, as in everything with that sort of conversation, was that it is his accountability, there’s always something to learn.”