Be bold. Be brave. Be brutal. Gareth Southgate proved to be all three with the 23-man squad he has selected to represent England at the World Cup in Russia.
The unfortunate Adam Lallana, who has failed to prove his fitness during a frustrating season, is the biggest casualty and can be added to other big names left at home: Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere and Ryan Bertrand. But at least Lallana is on the five-strong stand-by list and may still make it.
It was poignant that the squad was revealed just as the death of Ray Wilson, at the age of 83, was announced. The left-back was the oldest member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup-winning team and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004. After Bobby Moore and Alan Ball, he is the third player from the team to pass away.
Southgate has followed his instincts and gone for youth by bringing in the uncapped 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has not officially been in the senior squad before but has trained with them and impressed the manager. He will play for Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Similarly, Southgate has included Fabian Delph, who has not played for his country for three years, as one of four Englishman who have performed so well in Pep Guardiola’s Premier League winning, record-breaking Manchester City side.
Southgate has also selected five players from Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur team, and three from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, making it 15 players from the Champions League qualifying top four.
The Liverpool contingent would have been higher had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez not been ruled out by injury. Gomez’s absence earned Gary Cahill a reprieve, and with 52 appearances the Chelsea defender has 20 caps more than the next most experienced player, Jordan Henderson.
It is, in fact, the first England squad since 1962 with an average of fewer than 20 caps each. Given there are far more internationals nowadays, it is a significant figure. It is also the youngest squad since 1958 (just under 26), although not hugely more youthful than the one Roy Hodgson took to Brazil four years ago (average age 26.5 years; average caps 27).
But it is a very different squad from 2014. In fact, only five players – Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Cahill and Henderson – were involved four years ago. Not one has experienced winning a match at a World Cup.
That represents a huge cull under Southgate; a revolution rather than an evolution. There is vibrancy, youth and a technical adeptness to a squad featuring several who can play in different roles.
Lallana’s exclusion means there will be no re-run of the injury sagas England have taken into previous major finals – from David Beckham and Wayne Rooney to Wilshere two years ago at Euro 2016 – and similarly Southgate has not selected on reputation. He has chosen a squad for the system – 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 – that he wants to implement.
“We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team, but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we've been looking to develop,” Southgate explained.
“The first call up for Trent Alexander-Arnold is well deserved. When we pick young players, it's not just because they are young, it's because their performances deserve it. We've also had a couple of injuries with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez, which is a huge blow for them personally and disappointing for us.”
A couple of areas of concern are that the three goalkeepers, including uncapped Nick Pope, have just nine caps between them while only two players – Welbeck (with 15) and Harry Kane (12) have reached double figures for goals.
Southgate will do it his way and that is a refreshing difference from all his predecessors bar the one he was most influenced by as an England player: Terry Venables.
There was also a zeitgeist feel to the announcement with the Football Association using “the nation’s football-mad youth” to reveal the 23 names in a video, released on social media, shot on location throughout the country. They included youngsters from local clubs such as Moorside Rangers in Manchester and Sheffield Wednesday’s Ladies Under-16s.
Meanwhile, players posted heartfelt messages, including Marcus Rashford thanking his mother on Twitter. He wrote: “After years of you standing on the touch line in the cold and rain, Mum we’re off to the World Cup!”
Also on social media, his United team-mate Ashley Young used a photograph of himself as a young boy in an England kit. “Maybe this picture said I was gonna live my dream and go to a World Cup … dreams do come true,” he wrote. At 32, Young is one of the older members of the squad but is heading to his first World Cup after, like Delph, fighting his way back for club and country.
It may be a sign of the times but from all the messages that were posted it also seems that there is a genuine excitement about being chosen – which has not always appeared to be the case.
Also not included are Chris Smalling and Jake Livermore, although the latter makes the stand-by list along with Lewis Cook, James Tarkowski and goalkeeper Tom Heaton - who has not even played since last September. The exclusion of Hart signals the end of his international career under Southgate.
Southgate will explain his selections – and omissions – at a press conference at Wembley on Thursday. He may well use the opportunity to announce whether Kane or Henderson will be his captain for the tournament.