FOR David Beckham’s broken metatarsal in 2002, and Wayne Rooney’s identical foot injury four years later, read Harry Maguire’s ankle ligaments in 2021. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be England if we weren’t fretting about an injury issue in the week leading up to the start of a major tournament.

On the face of it, Maguire’s availability is nothing like as crucial as that of Beckham in Japan and South Korea or Rooney in Germany. It could also be argued that getting John Terry fit for Euro 2004 in Portugal or hauling Rooney off the treatment table in the weeks leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was more important than getting Maguire onto the pitch this summer.

Yet that would be to downplay the importance of one of the few players Southgate has had inked onto his team sheet for the first game of the Euros ever since his side exited the last World Cup in Russia. Aside from Harry Kane, and perhaps Jordan Pickford now that Nick Pope has succumbed to injury, Maguire is the player Southgate would least want to find himself having to replace.

That explains why the England boss did not hesitate before naming Maguire in his squad, even though the 28-year-old missed the final two weeks of the season with Manchester United and was forced to admit defeat when he attempted to prove his fitness ahead of the Europa League final.

Maguire will be afforded as long as he needs to get himself fit, but while the fact he was pictured running at Rockliffe Park over the weekend means a significant staging post in his recovery has been passed, Southgate increasingly appears resigned to having to come up with a Plan B, at least for Sunday’s opener against Croatia and potentially for all three of his side’s group matches.

Hence today’s decision to select Brighton’s Ben White as the replacement for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold. Had Southgate been worried about Jordan Henderson’s fitness, he would almost certainly have gone for either James Ward-Prowse, who caught the eye against Romania on Sunday, or Jesse Lingard, who was one of England’s better performers in Wednesday’s victory over Austria. Had he wanted to add to his side’s defensive versatility, something that was a factor in his decision to select Alexander-Arnold in the first place, he might well have opted for Everton’s Ben Godfrey, who can fill a number of different defensive positions.

Instead, by promoting White, an out-and-out centre-half, he has tacitly acknowledged that he needs options that do not involve Maguire. In the space of a week, the appeal of a fourth right-back has been completely eclipsed by the need for a fifth centre-half.

So, with John Stones a certain starter at the weekend, White suddenly finds himself battling with Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady for the right to partner the Manchester City defender. He might be the last cab off the rank, but do not automatically assume he is third choice.

Mings was one of only two players to start both of England’s Riverside friendlies, but he did not advance his claims in either game. He was especially shaky against Romania, with his composure going awry in the second minute when he allowed a back-pass to roll under his foot and not really returning for the remainder of the game. Coady fared reasonably in the Austria game, but his club form with Wolves has hardly been stellar and he boasts just five international caps.

Admittedly, White, who made his first England start against Romania, is even more inexperienced, but he did well with Brighton last season and looks a decent fit with Stones. It would be a gamble to throw him into the Croatia game, but whatever Southgate decides will come with risks attached.

Kyle Walker is an even more left-field option, but while the 31-year-old has done well at centre-half with club and country, that has nearly always been in a back five. Southgate’s squad selection means the option of switching to a five is still available, but having worked so hard to move away from that system, he will be understandably reluctant to bring it back.