Rio Ferdinand believes it is the “right decision” for Gareth Southgate to overlook vastly-experienced former team-mate Joe Hart for England’s World Cup squad.
Months of speculation, scrutiny and intrigue come to a head on Wednesday afternoon, when the 23 men charged with taking on the world’s best this summer are revealed.
Their delight will contrast markedly with the disappointment of those missing out on Russia, with Hart – comfortably England’s most experienced player – said to miss the cut.
Southgate is reported to have called the 75-cap goalkeeper on Monday evening to tell him he would not be in the squad, with uncapped Burnley shot-stopper Nick Pope instead getting the nod alongside Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.
The trio boast just nine caps between them, yet Ferdinand believes Southgate would be right to omit Hart from his World Cup squad.
“In my eyes it’s the right decision,” former England defender Ferdinand told Press Association Sport at the BBC’s launch of their World Cup coverage.
“What is Joe Hart going to learn from going to this World Cup? He has been to a World Cup before, he has played tournament football before.
“What is Gareth Southgate going to learn about him? Whereas a young kid…
“I went to the World Cup in ‘98, didn’t play one minute of football, but it was a great learning curve for me.
“When I went to the next World Cup and played in 2002, I didn’t have anything I needed to learn, I wasn’t apprehensive about things. I’d already seen what the best methods were.
“Taking a young kid to go there and experience that I think is a much better way to go.”
Despite his struggles for form and game-time on loan at West Ham, Hart’s omission is somewhat surprising given how Southgate spoke of him in March when playing third fiddle to Butland and Pickford.
“Joe’s professionalism has been brilliant with us,” the England boss said. “He’s always performed well for us.
“We had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying.
“This week, even though he knew he wasn’t going to be involved in the games, he’s been a positive influence on the other players.”
Southgate said he was being “really straight with him throughout” and that relationship with Hart appears to have continued.
It also raises questions as to whether there will be any jokers up the manager’s sleeve on Wednesday.
Uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold’s promising campaign has put him in with a shout of making a World Cup squad that fellow Liverpool defender Joe Gomez looked set to be part of until undergoing ankle surgery.
Alfie Mawson, an unused member of the squad in March, is also out after going under the knife, so it will be interesting to see whether Southgate recalls the likes of Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane to bolster his three-man defence.
Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier looks likely to overcome a knee complaint and Southgate’s decision at left-back looks tough given his desire for versatility and the competition for that role.
Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was surely one of the “19 or 20” players that Southgate said in March had sealed their place in the 23, only for a season-ending knee injury to increase the manager’s midfield headache.
Jack Wilshere has not played for his country since the Euro 2016 exit to Iceland but was in line to start against Holland in March before injury put his World Cup hopes in jeopardy.
Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey has performed well recently but last donned the Three Lions in November 2015. Adam Lallana, England’s player of the year in 2016, is a fitness doubt, although Ruben Loftus-Cheek is an exciting option.
The squad will be drawn from the privately-submitted long list of 35 handed to FIFA and, while the world governing body does not need it whittled down until June 4, Southgate will name to 23 to strip unnecessary anxiety and pressure from preparations.
Most players will meet up on Monday as World Cup preparations get under way, although Manchester United and Chelsea players will be given an extended break after the FA Cup final.
Liverpool’s players will get similar respite after the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
England have warm-up friendlies against Nigeria at Wembley on June 2 and Costa Rica in Leeds on
June 7, with the Group G opener against Tunisia on June 18.