Gareth Southgate insists there was no reason not to include Ivan Toney in his England squad, despite a potential ban hanging over the player’s head.
The in-form Brentford striker is in Southgate’s first squad since the World Cup quarter-final exit to France in December for Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine this month.
But Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling, who missed his side’s 3-1 win at Leicester at the weekend, is ruled out of the opening qualifying matches due to injury.
Toney is still waiting for a Football Association verdict after being charged with 262 breaches of FA gambling rules, with a lengthy suspension possible.
He scored his 17th goal of the season in Brentford’s 2-0 win at Southampton on Wednesday and Southgate said there was no reason he could not be selected.
“The fact is he is playing for his club and playing well for his club, there hasn’t been a trial as yet or any judgement so I don’t know on what basis we wouldn’t pick him,” the England manager said.
“Before the World Cup Callum Wilson had a brilliant run of form, hit form just at the right time but he has had a little bit of an injury which has inhibited his performance in the last few weeks.
“Ivan has been consistent across the season. As soon as we announced the (World Cup) squad he had a brilliant game at Manchester City which was typical But he is playing really well, I like his presence in games. He deserves his opportunity.”
Toney’s inclusion means Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins, with six goals in his last seven games, misses out.
Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker, being investigated by police after allegedly exposing himself in a bar, is included in the 25-man squad.
Southgate added: “It is a complicated situation, I have spoken at length with him.
“He is back playing with his club, there is no conclusive evidence to leave him out at this stage. I have to be careful on being the moral judge on things.
“We have had a couple of long conversations, we feel we want him with us, but we know when you’re an England player there is an ever higher bar on how you conduct yourselves and what is expected. We are not taking those decisions lightly.”
Along with Sterling, Ben White, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Coady and Callum Wilson are absent having all gone to the World Cup.
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell has earned a recall for the first time since the 10-0 win over San Marino in November 2021.
Harry Maguire retains his place despite starting just two Premier League games for Manchester United this year.
Leicester’s James Maddison, whose World Cup was wrecked by a knee injury, keeps his spot along with Kalvin Phillips, despite his lack of action for Manchester City.
England travel to Naples to face Italy on March 23 before hosting Ukraine on March 26 in Group C.