Gareth Southgate provides Euros boost to Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips after Roy Keane's Jordan Henderson 'cheerleader' comments
GARETH Southgate has provided a boost to Kalvin Phillips in the Leeds United midfielder's bid to play a starring role for England at the Euros.
After seeing England sign off for the tournament with Sunday's 1-0 victory against Romania, Southgate said the Three Lions were not "hanging their hat" on fellow midfielder Jordan Henderson being fit.
Henderson is one of Southgate's main options for a centre midfield role at the tournament in addition to Whites star Phillips plus West Ham's Declan Rice and teenage Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham.
Liverpool captain Henderson was included in Southgate's final 26-man squad for this summer's tournament despite having not featured competitively since February's Merseyside derby in which the 30-year-old suffered a groin injury which required surgery.
Henderson then played no part in England's penultimate warm up game against Austria last Wednesday evening and then started Sunday's friendly against Romania at the Riverside on the bench.
The decision to even include Henderson in the squad was met with criticism from Roy Keane during ITV's coverage of the fixture in which Phillips lined up alongside Southampton's James Ward-Prowse in the middle of the park.
Ward-Prowse had not been selected in Southgate's final Euros squad but the England boss still had the chance to take the Saints midfielder as a late replacement for injured Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Southgate has instead opted to take Brighton's former Whites loanee Ben White who has excelled at centre-back but can also play in centre midfield.
It means that Phillips, Henderson, Rice, Bellingham and White are the centre midfield options for the Euros and Henderson was finally given minutes from the bench in Sunday's friendly against Romania when replacing Phillips at half-time.
Henderson then missed a penalty as part of a half in which Rice and Bellingham were also handed outings from the bench.
Southgate must now decide who starts Sunday's Euros opener against Croatia at Wembley and the Three Lions boss defended his decision to include Henderson in his squad and provided a boost to Phillips in highlighting the full range of options at his disposal.
Asked about Keane's comments about Henderson's presence proving a distraction and whether his penalty miss was a case of the midfielder looking for a Hollywood ending on his return to the side, Southgate said: "I think firstly we are certainly not distracted by anything.
“We know the situation Hendo is in, he’s been a very positive influence around the camp with the group.
“It’s a step forward for him physically today which was important in order for him to be able to play some sort of part in the tournament and we are realistic about what that could be.
“It’s not a situation where it’s dividing the group or we are unrealistic about what is possible.
"We’re not hanging our hat on him being fit.
"If we can get him to a good level then that’s a bonus.
"We’ve got 26 players which of course has never been the case before."
Referring to Henderson taking England's second penalty over and above striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Southgate said: "With the penalties, we are very diligent in how we practice them.
"I didn’t expect what happened to happen and I wouldn’t expect that to happen again.”
Expressing his view that Henderson was clearly not fit enough to be a genuine starting option in the squad, Keane said on ITV: "It's already a distraction for Jordan.
"I was convinced Jordan was going to play the other day and certainly maybe start the game.
"Why not start him in the first 45 minutes when there is obviously more intensity?
"I think it's a huge distraction - clearly Jordan is not fit.
"I don't think he should be involved.
"He can't be fit if he can't start a game against Romania because physically and mentally, this game won't be that tough for him to deal with, he's an experienced player.
"To have not kicked a ball for three and a half months and going to European Championship, he can't be right.
"I've heard a lot of people saying they want him around the place. For what?
"Does he do card tricks? Does he have a sing-song? Does he do quizzes in the evenings? What does he do?
"And if you are Liverpool you wouldn't be happy either.
"Surely Jordan doesn't want to be around the place either being some sort of cheerleader, you want to play and he's clearly nowhere near because what you need after being out for three and a half months is three or four or five games maybe.
"If he gets through the second 45 minutes does that mean he might be an option or two or three weeks? He's clearly not fit enough."
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Thank you Laura Collins