Sorry, Man Utd fans - England were right not to call up Kobbie Mainoo

  • England to take on Brazil and Belgium in friendlies this month
  • Gareth Southgate did not select Kobbie Mainoo despite promising performances
  • Why Three Lions boss was right to omit Man Utd youngster on this occasion
Mainoo was overlooked for the March internationals
Mainoo was overlooked for the March internationals / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

England manager Gareth Southgate decided against calling up Manchester United youngster Kobbie Mainoo for this month's friendlies against Brazil and Belgium, despite his fine performances this season.

The Three Lions have one last mid-season window ahead of this summer's European Championships in Germany, though Southgate neglected to call upon one of the best players at one of the Premier League's biggest clubs. Instead, Mainoo was called into the England Under-21 setup for the first time.

When the unpopular Jordan Henderson is still making squads, it's understandable that fans question why Mainoo was overlooked, but there is method behind that madness.

There's now a danger that England stumble into another Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard dilemma. The pair were unquestionable legends of their era and on paper formed a near-complete midfield, but they just never worked that well together, diminishing one another and the Three Lions suffered for it.

Southgate's pivot of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham looked fairly promising at the 2022 World Cup. It certainly wasn't the reason why England were eliminated by eventual finalists France. But both players have evolved into more attacking roles since this tournament.

Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham
Rice and Bellingham work well together / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Since swapping Borussia Dortmund for Real Madrid, Bellingham has become a Ballon d'Or candidate with his goal output and positioning between the lines, with Southgate admitting they need to find the right balance when playing for his country so he doesn't occupy the same space as Harry Kane.

Rice, meanwhile, has matured as expected at Arsenal, but has also added goals and attacking threat to his game. It may suit him to play as the deepest midfielder at international level with England for the time being, but it would be a waste to just pass up this presence in the final third for much longer.

So in the long-term, it's clear England could do with another sitting midfielder, a calm head capable of providing a screen for the backline. That player could yet be Mainoo, but it's too much to ask of him right now.

Coming into the season, there was a lot of buzz about Mainoo from United fans. He was the star of pre-season until picking up an injury, the latest off the Carrington production line ready to play Premier League football. To their credit, they were right and the youngster has proven to be a rare bright spark in a rather gloomy campaign.

Already, Mainoo has become one of Ten Hag's most reliable players, but everyone involved in his development needs to ensure everything isn't coming too fast and too soon.

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Ten Hag has already admitted to taking Mainoo out of the firing line in recent weeks. He's played a lot of senior football for an 18-year-old - you only have to look over at Barcelona and Spain's handling of Pedri to see where it can go wrong when running your starlets into the ground.

This isn't to say Mainoo shouldn't go to Euro 2024. In all likelihood, he'll probably continue playing his way into contention for the final squad and force Southgate's hand. Bellingham made the Euro 2020 squad when he was 17 if only just to get a feel around the camp for future tournaments, and Mainoo may have a slightly more senior role than that.

There's also a danger that Mainoo could switch allegiances to Ghana, who have been vocal in their attempts to recruit him for their senior team. Showing Mainoo a long-term plan working through the youth teams and then being integrated into their star setup should prove more appealing, however.

For now, it's fine for Mainoo to continue his growth working with a talented England U21s side. The senior call is coming, you just need to take some time between these steps.