Gareth Southgate said the door was still “100 percent” open for Raheem Sterling after leaving the Chelsea forward out of England’s squad for their final Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Southgate, whose side are already assured of their place in the tournament in Germany next year, named a 25-man group on Thursday for a home match against Malta on November 17 and a trip to North Macedonia three days later.
Sterling, who has 82 caps and 20 goals for England, has not played for the national team since last year’s World Cup in Qatar, where England reached the quarter-finals.
“The door is 100 percent open not only for Raheem but for other players,” said Southgate. “There’s no doubt about that.
“We don’t need to know about his quality, his personality. He is a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the last few years.”
The England boss said it was tough to leave in-form players out to accommodate Sterling, 28, who has scored four goals for Chelsea this season.
“He wasn’t available in March or June and the team started on a good run,” he said. “We won in Italy for the first time in 60 years, the two performances in June were excellent, so we stuck with that group,” he added.
“There is no question Raheem is looking dangerous for his club, he looks invigorated since the start of the season. (But) that is an area of the pitch where we’ve probably got as much competition for places as anywhere.”
Manchester City defender John Stones and Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah are both out injured.
Chelsea captain James is fit again after a hamstring injury, but asked to be left out of the squad after it had been expected he would replace Stones.
Southgate said: “I was hoping to call up Reece James, but he doesn’t feel he is quite ready and I understand that.
“He’s had a long path back from a number of injuries and he’s cautious in that respect. I can understand why.”
Southgate paid tribute to Bobby Charlton, who died last month and will be honored in England’s match against Malta at Wembley.
“I think he is respected around the world and clearly our greatest-ever player when you think of not only the World Cup, but also winning the European Cup and everything he did at club level,” he said.
“Very sad. We were fortunate to have met him a few times and incredibly humble, so, yes, our condolences are with all his family but hopefully we get the chance to honor him at Wembley and it will be a celebration of life.”
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan/ITA), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid/ESP), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq/KSA), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (Arsenal)
Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich/GER), James Maddison (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa), Callum Wilson (Newcastle)