Raheem Sterling’s struggles for regular playing time will not affect his standing with England football team, as Gareth Southgate suggested that he will keep his international place despite failing to hold down a regular spot at Manchester City.
Sterling has only started six of City’s 18 games since his starring role for his country at the summer’s European Championship and admitted last month that he would be open to leaving the Etihad if he continues to be largely confined to the substitutes bench.
Southgate has always stressed the importance of regular playing time when justifying his squad selections, overlooking Jadon Sancho for this week’s final World Cup qualifiers following his struggles to force his way into the Manchester United line-up.
The England manager hinted that he is willing to make an exception for those players who have delivered under him previously. 41 of Sterling’s 67 caps have come during Southgate’s time in charge, as have 16 of his 18 goals.
Southgate stressed that the likes of Sterling and captain Harry Kane are not considered ‘undroppable’, though conceded that when selecting his squad, those who have proven their quality over a long period of time can survive a lack of minutes at club level.
“We touched on this a little bit when I named the squad and I know I do always say there is a preference for us that players are playing regularly because they’re match-sharp, they’re ready, but if their physical condition is good and they’re playing enough football, then also, we’ve got to look at who we feel our best players are,” Southgate admitted.
“That doesn’t mean they’re undroppable, and I think any player in the squad has been in or out at some time, Raheem included. And that doesn’t mean if we’re not playing well, we won’t take players off, because we’ve also done that, but there’s a balance with your selection.
“OK, who’s in form, but over how long a period is that, have they produced in the big matches yet, do we know quite yet what they can do? And Raheem has proved time and time again with us how important he’s been, and that his level is really high.
“He’s at a club with an incredible roster of players that it’s complicated at times to get games, but he’ll work his way into the team, I’m sure.”
Sterling has largely been limited to substitute appearances at City this season, last starting in the EFL Cup fourth round defeat to West Ham at the end of last month, but Southgate is not concerned that he may lack match sharpness.
The 26-year-old also found himself in and out under Pep Guardiola at the end of last season, leading to questions over his England place, though started every game at the Euros, scoring four goals en route to the final.
“I think fortunately because of the Champions League games and the League Cup games, he’s physically sharp enough and had enough minutes to retain his fitness, so I sense that in the summer we had a similar situation,” Southgate said.
“He hadn’t played so much towards the end of the season, but did play the [Champions League] final and he was hungry and sharp and ready to go and that’s how I’ve seen him this week.
“I know he enjoys his football with us, we’ve benefited massively from all of his attacking play, but of course his goals especially. I’ve not sensed a player that is low or unenergised. I’ve seen absolutely the opposite.”