Gareth Southgate has revealed that his decision to omit Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney from the England squad for next week's double-header against Germany and Lithuania was motivated by a lack of first-team football in addition to his recent injury issues.
Three Lions captain and all-time leading goalscorer Rooney has started just nine Premier League matches so far this term and missed both of United's last two after suffering an injury during an accidental training ground collision with teammate Phil Jones.
Providing an update on his fitness during a press conference held on Wednesday (15 March), Jose Mourinho revealed that his skipper had sustained a kick to the knee and "can't even come out to the pitch".
He stated that the 31-year-old would "stay inside the medical department" rather than take the field for a Europa League last-16 second-leg decider against FC Rostov.
Despite that rather pessimistic prognosis from his club manager, however, Southgate believes Rooney could be fit to return as soon as this weekend when the Red Devils travel to the Riverside Stadium for a top-flight meeting with newly-managerless relegation battlers Middlesbrough.
"I've talked with Wayne and I think there's a chance he might be fit for this weekend," he told reporters after his latest squad announcement. "But also the injury, partnered with the fact he has not had a lot of game-time recently and others have, has determined my decision on that."
Southgate has endured something of a striker selection headache prior to his first matches in permanent charge of England, with Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge both sidelined along with Rooney. The issue has led to Sunderland's Jermain Defoe being lined up for his first international appearance since November 2013, while Marcus Rashford has also been named in the senior squad rather than Aidy Boothroyd's U21s.
"My ideal would have been that Marcus was with the under-21s this time around," Southgate added when asked if he intended the United academy graduate to travel to this summer's European U21 Championship in Poland.
"But clearly we've lost Harry and Daniel Sturridge as number 9s. Clearly we need that sort of cover. We've got to see how much football he plays between now and the end of the season."
Arguably the most glaring omission from Southgate's first squad since being promoted from interim boss, particularly given those aforementioned injury woes, is Theo Walcott. The Arsenal forward has scored a healthy 17 goals in 29 appearances across all competitions so far this season, yet is still overlooked as the new-look England evaluate other options.
"That's a really tough call on him, and one I don't think he'll be particularly happy with. But I wanted to have a look at a few others and he is still very much in our thinking. If he keeps playing well for his club there's no reason he can't force his way back in."