JORDAN Henderson will bid to become England’s main middle man after Jack Wilshere’s withdrawal from the next month’s European Under-21 Championships.
Sunderland midfielder Henderson was yesterday confirmed in the final 23-man squad for the tournament, along with on-loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck.
The 20-year-old, who has returned to the U21 set-up after making his senior England bow last November, is poised to be a key figure in midfield for Stuart Pearce’s side, particularly after the exclusion of Wilshere from the squad.
Arsenal man Wilshere asked to be left out due to fatigue, although he has been included in the senior squad for the friendly with Switzerland on June 4.
That leaves Henderson as an almost sure-fire starter while Welbeck could also be included in the starting line-up for England’s opening game against Spain on June 12, providing he recovers from the hamstring injury which saw him miss the final month of Sunderland’s season.
England coach Pearce said: “I spoke to Jack last week and he explained that while he told me in March that he wanted to be part of the squad, he now feels he is not in the best condition to take part in the finals.
“That is based on the number of games he has played for Arsenal this season, sports science data which Jack was presented with last week and concerns he has for his fitness looking ahead to next season.
“Jack has always expressed his enjoyment at being involved with the Under-21 squad and while I am disappointed not to have him with us for the finals, I’ve accepted the situation.
“I am very conscious of the importance of looking after all our players and that is why I have frequent conversations with club managers throughout the season.
“I believe that representing your country in international development tournaments can be a great advantage to players and increases the chances of being successful at senior level.”
Henderson has won six caps for the under-21s and is keen to test himself against Europe’s most promising youngsters, particularly after regaining his form at the tail end of the campaign.
Welbeck faces a fight with fitness before contemplating the prospect of leading England’s forward line.
The 20-year-old, who made his senior debut in March’s friendly with Ghana, re-injured his hamstring against Wigan last month and has been back at Old Trafford receiving treatment.
But the inclusion of Welbeck as one of only four strikers, suggests Pearce is not too concerned at the Manchester United hitman’s fitness.
England face Spain, Ukraine and the Czech Republic in the group stages of the competition before the knock-out phase gets underway in the week beginning June 20.
Their final warm-up friendly before they fly to Denmark is against Norway at Southampton’s St Mary’s ground on June 5.
England U21s squad for the UEFA U21 Championship: Fielding (Derby), Steele (Middlesbrough), McCarthy (Reading); Bertrand (Chelsea), Gibbs (Arsenal), Jones (Blackburn), Mancienne (Chelsea), Richards (Man City), Smalling (Man Utd), Walker (Tottenham); Albrighton (Aston Villa), Cork (Chelsea), Cleverley (Man Utd), Henderson (Sunderland), Lansbury (Arsenal), Muamba (Bolton), Rodwell (Everton), Rose (Tottenham); Sinclair (Swansea), Delfouneso (Aston Villa), Sturridge (Chelsea), Welbeck (Man Utd), Wickham (Ipswich).
H SUNDERLAND full-back Phil Bardsley is expected to be fit for Scotland’s Carling Nations Cup clash with Wales tomorrow after treatment on a hip injury.