LONDON: Jordan Henderson was named today in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for matches against Ukraine and Scotland despite his move from Liverpool to Saudi club Al-Ettifaq.
Manchester United centreback Harry Maguire is also included in the 26-man group despite being out of favour at Old Trafford but there is no place for in-form Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling.
The road to next year’s European Championship continues with a qualifier against Ukraine in Poland on Sept 9, before a friendly in Scotland three days later.
Henderson’s move to the Saudi Pro League in July led to questions over his future international career and Southgate admits he has some concerns about the switch.
“We’ve watched every game,” he said.
“The key as we move forward is going to be the physical intensity of the league, because of the heat as well, whether that is going to allow him to perform at the level we need.
“Clearly the level of the league is changing all the time. Lots of countries are going to have this issue. Portugal have got a few players there so I’m sure they are going to be playing international football still.”
Henderson’s move to the Gulf state, where homosexuality is outlawed, attracted criticism due to his long-standing support of LGBT issues.
Southgate stressed the squad’s support for the LGBT community at his press conference today.
“We have tried to be very supportive but I also accept members of the community felt let down,” he said.
“You have to live your life as you see fit. I can only speak on a personal level and what the team represents and I try to be accepting of all cultures and understanding of everyone in different positions.
“If there is a feeling we haven’t done enough we have to accept that position, but it is not intentional. But these are all very complex situations that we are trying to do our best to navigate.”
Former United captain Maguire and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips, both in Southgate’s squad, have yet to play a minute of club football this season.
Speaking about Maguire’s inclusion, Southgate pointed to the absence of several experienced defenders including Tyrone Mings and John Stones.
“There is a space there and I think for these two games it is important we have some experience in that place of the pitch,” he said.
The England boss said the door was still open for Sterling, who has 82 caps, to earn a way back.
“It is a difficult call and Raheem isn’t particularly happy about it – I’m convinced he will have a good season at Chelsea, I’ve no doubt about that.”
Under-21 European Championship winner Levi Colwill received his first formal call-up and uncapped Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah has also got the nod for the first time.
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), 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: Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich/GER), James Maddison (Tottenham), Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Callum Wilson (Newcastle)