Sam Allardyce admits leaving Ross Barkley out of his first England squad was a “very difficult” decision.
The 22-year-old was dropped from the new manager’s first squad as the Three Lions prepare to open their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign in Slovakia on Sunday.
Allardyce dropped Barkley as he made five changes for his first squad since replacing Roy Hodgson, who named Barkley in his final Euro 2016 squad this summer but did not play him in the tournament.
Barkley has scored two goals in his first four games for Everton this season but Allardyce – who has convinced John Nicholson that England are now destined for glory – decided to recall Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater and hand a first call-up to West Ham winger Michail Antonio instead.
He said: “It’s been a well thought-out squad, we have been in deep discussions and had to make some very difficult decisions, none more so than Ross Barkley. For him it’s disappointing, the door is always open for Ross but at this moment I felt the squad I picked is right.
“It was much more difficult picking this squad than it was one in the Premier League. Hopefully the players will make it a lot easier or a lot more difficult, like the Ross Barkley decision. I hope every decision I make is questioned on the form of the player at the time.
“We made our mind up, all my staff. It’s not just me, I’m there to make the final decision but we discuss every element over the last four to six weeks, particularly since the season started. What sort of pre-season they have had, what happened last season, the start they’ve had to this season and looking at the balance of the squad.”
Jack Wilshere was also dropped while Marcus Rashford has been included in the England Under-21 squad but Luke Shaw, Phil Jagielka, and Theo Walcott earned recalls with Antonio the only new face in the squad which will link up at St George’s Park on Monday.
Antonio joined West Ham from Nottingham Forest for £7million in 2015 having played for Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton since starting his career at non-league Tooting & Mitcham.
The 26-year-old has scored two goals in his last two games for the Hammers, including in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Manchester City, and Allardyce believes Antonio deserves his place.
“The journey,” he said, when asked to explain why he selected Antonio. “The quality of the player that has shown through in every league he has played. The impact he had at the end of last season and the start of this, his attacking flair, his quality for final-third delivery, and his goal record from a wide position.
“I think that that journey is something that deserves to be in this squad and me to have a look at as a potential player going forward.
“It shows if you’ve got guts and termination and desire, how much it means (to you)…. then he goes forward and creates a career for him which finally ends in the Premier League and finally with us in this squad.”
Allardyce will reveal his captain on Tuesday with current skipper Wayne Rooney named as a midfielder on the squad list but Allardyce moved to clarify his playing position, although remained tight-lipped on who will get the armband.
He added: “Should we say attacking midfielder or striker? Wayne’s position has changed at Manchester United and that’s the sort of position I am looking for him to play in. That is something I may consider changing, the format of the squad.
“It’s going to be tomorrow (the captain announcement) and the captain and a few players will be doing some press. My thoughts today are to meet the players and then talk to them individually.”
Allardyce is also keen to avoid problems ahead of the closure of the transfer window on Wednesday with Joe Hart expected to leave Manchester City on loan after falling down the pecking order at the Etihad under Pep Guardiola.
“I’m pleased I’m not dealing with the last few days of the window in the Premier League,” said the former Sunderland boss.
“It could be a distraction and we’ll address the players today when they arrive. I don’t quite know yet because it’s my first time and my first squad but hopefully there will be no challenges in that way before now and when the window shuts.
“I’m sure if there’s anything in the pipeline I’m sure Joe will tell us ‘this may happen’ so we can get ready for it just in case it does.”
England drew 0-0 with Slovakia at Euro 2016, with Roy Hodgson’s changes backfiring as they finished second in Group B behind Wales, but Allardyce expects a different game this time.
“We have examined that game, we have watched that match but we have really focused on the games they have played at home,” he said. “The tactics will be different when they play at home, they are a team which has to come out and attack when they play at home whereas in the Euros we all knew one point was enough for them.”