Five players England and Southgate absolutely must build around to deliver Euro 2024 glory

Matt Stead
Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount look dejected

In only 18 months, England will have another opportunity to end all those years of hurt. Bukayo Saka leads the quintet which should be at the centre of it. Poor Marcus Rashford.

For balance, here are the five England should simultaneously phase out.

The five players we insisted England ‘must build now around’ (don’t ask) after the 2018 World Cup is also a fun read.


Jude Bellingham
From the tremendous headed opener against Iran to the way he was the first teammate to console Harry Kane after his missed penalty against France, Jude Bellingham has displayed a remarkable maturity, ability and authority during his tournament debut on the world stage.

England’s second youngest World Cup scorer and third youngest World Cup player was one of the brightest and best World Cup sparks for any nation. For a teenager to force himself into such an established side in perhaps the most difficult position requires a rare skillset and the exciting factor with Bellingham is that his is still developing, growing and improving under the most intense microscope possible.

He is already one of the world’s best and most effective midfielders, even with plenty of room and time for refinement. The bar has been set high but Bellingham has the attributes needed to raise it further over the next decade.


Bukayo Saka
The man who stormed the stage of The Kylian Mbappe Show
and earned a standing ovation; the star who an awestruck David Beckham should be asking for selfies. Bukayo Saka arrived at the World Cup perhaps unfairly without a fearsome reputation, despite being one of the best players for the runaway Premier League leaders. His name did not grace previews or predictions, with that space reserved for players with a higher profile but a lower floor and ceiling. He will return from Qatar with no-one in any doubt as to who he is and how brilliant he can be.

Only five players have ever scored more World Cup goals for England – and the 21-year-old has another few tournaments left in him. Saka is a genuinely phenomenal forward with barely any weaknesses, who opposition teams deem worth specifically targeting for a reason. England’s attack has evolved and Saka is at the forefront of that.


Phil Foden
While his impact was slightly more tempered, Phil Foden had an excellent tournament. It took a deflating draw with the USA to see him into the starting line-up but the Manchester City forward seized the opportunity when it presented itself, helping England solve conundrums against Wales and Senegal.

There is a school of thought that Foden must be utilised differently for England; that just because he plays wide for his club, does not mean he cannot take up a more central role for country. It is an idea worth exploring and there can be no doubt that Foden has the technical ability to replicate the sort of performance Antoine Griezmann put in during the quarter-final. But the nuances of international coaching make it an inherently difficult and risky avenue to go down.

In any event, the only question now should be where Foden plays rather than if. The 22-year-old is already one of the most gifted members of this squad and has finally started to deliver positive performances for England, on whom the onus is to hone and harness that.


John Stones
Not perfect, but a damn sight better than the alternatives. John Stones’ mistakes have become fewer and further between with age and experience and his role in guiding a potentially rusty Harry Maguire through the tournament, with Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker trading places on his side, should not be overlooked.

Allowing Olivier Giroud to escape his clutches was an error punished to the most crushing degree, a rare instance in which the 28-year-old was out of a situation’s control. And while the old-fashioned stuff is his priority, the way in which he moves the ball was and is vital for England: Stones attempted 453 passes this tournament and misplaced just 19. His part in the build-up must be retained.


Reece James
The plethora of right-backs at Southgate’s disposal suddenly felt like something of a dearth with a single injury. Reece James had finally ingrained himself into the England side ahead of two of the manager’s pets ahead of the World Cup, but a knee issue redirected the Three Lions back onto a familiar course.

Walker and Trippier fared well at right-back, sharing the load to their usual high standard and playing their parts. But with both turning 33 next year, the contingency plan needs to be enacted at the first chance. Trent Alexander-Arnold, rightly or wrongly, seems unlikely to ever boast Southgate’s unerring trust in quite the same way as Walker and Trippier have. Upon his return, James should face no real challenge for the spot and be given time to settle back in.