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John Barnes backs ‘strong’ Gareth Southgate to get balance right for England

John Barnes insists Gareth Southgate must select a balanced side for Euro 2024 (Jacob King/PA)
John Barnes insists Gareth Southgate must select a balanced side for Euro 2024 (Jacob King/PA)

John Barnes does not believe England head coach Gareth Southgate will bow to public pressure over team selection at Euro 2024.

There has been a clamour for Southgate to accommodate as many of his world-class offensive talents as possible in his starting line-up for the tournament in Germany, with attack-minded players starring at club level both at home and abroad.

But former England and Liverpool winger Barnes insists the side’s balance is all-important as the Three Lions bid for their first major trophy since 1966.

Gareth Southgate's England lost to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley
Gareth Southgate’s England lost to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley (Nick Potts/PA)

Barnes, who won 79 England caps between 1983 and 1995, told the PA news agency: “I don’t look at individuals at all, I look at the balance of the team. Gareth has to resist the urge to play all his attacking players.

“And of course what’s going to happen when he leaves someone out? He’s going to get criticised. Why didn’t he play and why didn’t he play?

“But Gareth is strong enough to understand that and the fans have to support him.”

Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane have been star attractions for their clubs this season but Barnes is not sure there can be a place for all of them in England’s starting XI.

When asked if Bellingham can make the same impact for England at the Euros as he has done in a stellar first season for Real Madrid, Barnes said: “Well if he does, Phil Foden won’t. There’s only one football.

“If Foden does, then maybe Saka won’t or Jack Grealish and somebody else.

“So when you’re looking at Jude Bellingham, you have to think about Phil Foden as well.”

The likes of Cole Palmer,  Ollie Watkins, Anthony Gordon and  Eberechi Eze all also finished the season in eye-catching form.

“The problem England have got,” Barnes added. “Is they have so many good, attacking playmakers and you can’t play them all.”

Southgate led England to the last four of the 2018 World Cup, to the Euro 2020 final and the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals, ramping up expectation in some quarters that it is time for him to deliver a first major trophy in 58 years with the talent at his disposal.

England's only major trophy win was under manager Sir Alf Ramsey and captain Bobby Moore in 1966
England’s only major trophy win was under manager Sir Alf Ramsey and captain Bobby Moore in 1966 (Ron Bell/PA)

But Barnes, who considers France as the team to beat, does not agree that only victory in the Euro 2024 final in Berlin on July 14 would be considered a success.

“I don’t think England are the favourites, so why should they win it?” he added. “I don’t see why Gareth gets criticised at all because he’s maximised the potential of the team.

“With a bit of luck we can win it and I don’t think there’s pressure on him at all because everybody knows this is his last tournament and if he was staying, there would be lots more pressure on him.

“If you’re asking if England can win it, yes we can. I would make us one of the favourites, but not the outright favourites.

“If we get knocked out before the quarter-finals then of course that will be disappointing, but I don’t think that will happen.”

:: England and Liverpool great John Barnes has teamed up with plant-based food company THIS™ to launch a summer BBQ ‘banger’ ahead of the Euros and will feature in a promotional song ‘THIS™ Is The One’ 34 years after the release of his 1990 World Cup hit World in Motion. Watch the ‘THIS™ Is The One’ music video here: