The balancing act Gareth Southgate is having to conduct as England manager would not look out of place on the high-wire at Cirque du Soleil.
There he is, up in the distance, trying to traverse the route from the Russia World Cup to Euro 2020 without plummeting to the safety net below. Weighing him down is the fact that some players are knackered from too much football, as a result of reaching the semi-finals followed by an early start to the Premier League season, while others need the minutes they are not getting at their clubs.
The major decision has been made to rest captain and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane this evening for England’s friendly against Switzerland. Though he denies it, the Spurs striker has started to look tired in games and largely ineffectual if he does not score.
Clubmate Dele Alli is in a similar category, also playing non-stop, so it was decided the best option was to send the midfielder back to Tottenham after he began feeling a minor twinge in a muscle during the defeat by Spain on Saturday.
“These players committed an unbelievable amount for their country over the summer,” Southgate said. “There are guys who’ve had to go back into matches quickly and have European football coming up. We’ve got to balance those things off.”
So Southgate will make nine changes to the side which started at Wembley, even though he faces the prospect of becoming the first England manager to lose four matches in a row, and Switzerland are the eighth-highest ranked side in the world.
Southgate is having to provide many of England’s players with the minutes on the pitch they are not able to achieve at their clubs. Ruben Loftus-Cheek: two late substitute appearances for Chelsea. Marcus Rashford: one start at Manchester United. Fabian Delph: not played a minute for Manchester City. Danny Rose: one start for Spurs.
Defender Harry Maguire went from a Barbados beach to facing United at Old Trafford in the space of a week, has started every Leicester match, started against Spain and will start again tonight. It’s a shame, for Southgate, that others do not fall into that category.
“We’re in a position now where it will help them at their clubs to get minutes with us,” Southgate, pictured, said. “We’re trying to help them develop.
“We’re in a different era in terms of numbers of players who are in the pool and selectable. There are 70 English players playing and I could pick. We are playing the way we want to play, the way we believe, and we ruled a few out in that decision-making.
“But to try to have a strategy to be as good as we want to be in the mid to long-term, that’s got to be some of the kids who have been successful at youth level for us.
“Harry falls in that category in which we have several players where we have to watch how much they play. It was a short break, with no pre-season, and everybody was back earlier than I am sure everybody would have expected for club matches, although that is entirely understandable.
“I have guys who are going to go into European matches as well, so we have an opportunity to look after players who have given us a lot over the summer. Under normal circumstances, that would not be ideal, but I think it is important. And there is the balance that a lot of guys who were with us over a long summer did not get as much football as they would have liked. If we don’t look at them in a game, when would we?”
With Kane jaded and resting, who leads the line is a concern. What if he were to suffer a long-term injury – which becomes increasingly likely the more he plays without a break. Leicester striker Jamie Vardy made the decision to retire from international football. Is Danny Welbeck, who will start against Switzerland, really the man you want as your main striker in a major tournament?
The alternatives include Watford’s Troy Deeney, Danny Ings – who has started well at Southampton –and Theo Walcott at Everton. “There aren’t many English strikers playing,” Southgate said. “There’s obviously some older ones who have good goalscoring records at club level but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the route we want to go. We’re hopeful that a couple of the younger ones will start to get games and develop.”