Gareth Southgate will end up having to take a “gamble” on Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire being fit for the Euros.
That is the verdict of former England physio Gary Lewin who has seen countless last-minute injury and selection dilemmas during more than 20 years of major tournaments.
But Lewin believes England boss Southgate does have the potential to go all the way this summer and also praised the way he is managing his squad despite the added late complications.
Southgate named a provisional squad of 33 which he has to trim down to 26 on Tuesday. Maguire has been struggling with an ankle injury, Liverpool captain Henderson is just back from a lengthy lay-off and others like Trent Alexander-Arnold are sweating on their places.
Ex-Arsenal physio Lewin, who now runs his own private sports practice, said: “If you’re planning to win the tournament, it’s seven matches and you have to get those players fit and thinking they will make the final.
“You’ve got plenty of time to get them fit and so if they’re important to the squad, will you take a gamble? If you’ve got 26 players in the squad, waiting on two players, then I think the answer is yes. You’ve got a bigger number anyway and so it means Gareth can take a risk.
“I think it would be more of a risk in Gareth’s eyes to take a couple of uncapped players rather than experienced players. But he’s with them every day, watching them train and yet part of that decision has to be what they can bring to the squad.
“I think what he’s done is very sensible because he hasn’t much choice. But it does make things complicated and not ideal as it was in the build-up to the World Cup in 2018.
“The problem with this is that you have got players looking around and thinking: ‘is Jordan Henderson going to make it? What about Harry Maguire? Have I got a chance?’ So instead of focusing on yourself, you do get distracted.”
Lewin, who joined the England set-up in 1996, was around when Paul Gascoigne famously smashed up Glenn Hoddle’s hotel room in La Manga after being cut from the squad in 1998. He was also on board with both Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson.
There were countless metatarsal dramas with Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, the whole nation willing Gareth Barry to be fit for 2010 and the heartbreak of Ian Wright missing out in 1998. There is almost always a last minute fitness drama.
“The weirdest one was in 2002. We named the squad, we put Trevor Sinclair on the flight back home, while he was in the air, Danny Murphy broke his foot,” recalled Lewin. “When Trevor landed, the message was ‘don’t leave the airport, you’re coming back again.’
“Over the years, we had it with Wayne Rooney, with Michael Owen, with Becks, with John Terry when he got injured before the Euros in 2004. Gareth Barry in 2010 with Fabio. He had a pelvic problem and it was touch and go whether he’d make it.
“The one that sticks out was Wrighty in 1998. He’d had a great season, scored goals and then pulled a hamstring in a friendly in Morocco. I think Michael Owen was always going to go, but he got a chance but I felt so gutted for Ian to miss out.”
Southgate was a member of the England squad when Lewin was a physio and his experience tells him that England are in very good shape this time – and there is another reason why he thinks it could be a success.
Lewin added: “I’m always a glass half full and I’m also very passionate about it. Of all the years I was involved, I thought 2006 was the year we could win it. Of course we went out to Portugal on penalties. I get the same feeling this year about it.
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“The quality of the team, a lot of the games are in England and the other unique thing about this tournament is that all of the teams have to go into their bubbles but nobody is allowed in and out of the bubble.
“There will be no families, no interference and no-one from the outside which will be very strange but I think that will play a part in the mentality going into the tournament.
Everyone knows the way Gareth works from what happened in Russia. He was so relaxed, the whole country wanted him to do well and that’s such a big positive. He’s such a positive person, I think he’s great, I wish I was working with him!”
Lewin added: “We’re very, very busy. It’s a real combination of things. People took up more exercise but people also took up exercise they hadn’t done before. If people were playing football, they took up running.
“We get a lot from non-league football, semi-professional, the weekend warriors and the couch to 5km. Circus acts, rock climbers and probably the weirdest one was the captain of New Zealand toboggan team.”