Gareth Southgate’s decision to retain Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire in the England squad is coming under increasing scrutiny, with Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Ukraine raising questions about the wisdom of that choice.
As England seeks the necessary improvements to end a 58-year drought without a men’s trophy next summer, both Henderson and Maguire have faced renewed scrutiny. Henderson made a move to the Saudi Pro League, while Maguire was sidelined at Manchester United. Southgate defended their inclusion based on their past accomplishments and the contributions they can make in the present. According to Southgate, Henderson is still performing at a high level, and Maguire’s experience sets him apart in a young group of center-backs.
However, the match at the Tarczynski Arena provided little evidence to support these claims. It’s important to note that the underwhelming performance was not solely the fault of Henderson and Maguire, as England struggled collectively in possession, especially in the lackluster first half. While this result is not a disaster, as England has won 21 of its last 23 Euro qualifiers and remains on track to top Group C, every performance is now evaluated in the context of whether they can win a major tournament.
Southgate’s decision-making is increasingly under the spotlight, given the wealth of talent at his disposal. Henderson’s inclusion was a contentious issue this summer due to his move to Al Ettifaq and the backlash from the LGBTQIA+ community. Southgate chose to keep him, considering him a crucial member of the leadership group and a player who provides balance to England’s midfield. In a fixture against Ukraine, a team with passionate support from fans displaced due to the conflict in their home country, having some stability in midfield was deemed essential.
The emotional backdrop of this match was evident when Oleksandr Zinchenko opened the scoring for Ukraine. Zinchenko has spoken poignantly about the impact of the war on Ukraine, making his goal a moment of pure joy. However, Harry Maguire’s performance was less than stellar. Rusty from only 23 minutes of club football this season, Maguire struggled throughout the match.