Gareth Southgate is quietly going about dismantling his Mr Nice Guy image.
Quiet, unassuming and modest he might be, but we are quickly learning that the England manager has backbone.
The phasing out of Wayne Rooney from the international fold took genuine bottle. Southgate didn’t shirk it.
And over the past 48 hours, Southgate has once more proved he’s not a man to shy away when a decision is there to be made — crushing the World Cup dreams of two of the country’s high-profile players with cold-blooded phone calls.
England manager Gareth Southgate is quietly going about dismantling his Mr Nice Guy image
On Monday night, Southgate picked up his mobile and tapped the contacts button, before scrolling down to Joe Hart’s name.
Hart was under the impression that he’d be going to Russia, Southgate had said as much after the previous international break.
But in the phone call, Southgate explained to England’s current most-capped player that his services are not required. While Southgate is in charge, Hart looks firmly in the international wilderness.
No thought of reputation, no thought that between them Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope have won only nine international caps.
It was ruthless from Southgate and Hart is devastated, although he is said to have taken the manager’s call very respectfully on Monday night.
Southgate wasn’t finished there, either. On Tuesday morning, he again reached for his phone.
Who was on the receiving end this time? The England boss ran his finger down the screen until Jack Wilshere’s name appeared.
Joe Hart has been told that he will not be in England’s squad after a poor season with West Ham
Burnley star Nick Pope (left) is expected to be included as one of England’s three goalkeepers
LIKELY ENGLAND WORLD CUP SQUAD
Pickford, Butland, Pope
Stones, Cahill, Jones, Maguire, Walker, Trippier, Young, Rose
Dier, Henderson, Alli, Lallana, Loftus-Cheek, Lingard, Sterling, Delph
Kane, Vardy, Welbeck, Rashford
For the Arsenal man, there wasn’t quite the same sense of shock. Wilshere was probably expecting the phone call ever since pulling out of the squad to face Holland and Italy in March.
Southgate and his staff have reservations about how Wilshere’s body, given his history of injury, would stand up to the rigours of tournament football.
In Wilshere’s defence, the midfielder made 38 appearances for Arsenal last season. He looks to be over the injuries that have blighted his career so far. And at the age of 26, he has time to revive his international career.
As for 31-year-old Hart, though, you have to wonder if we’ve seen the last of him in an England shirt. He has been a great servant and has 75 caps.
But his performances have plummeted during his loan spell at West Ham this season.
The fact that he was dropped by David Moyes in place of Adrian midway through the season didn’t help his confidence. And now, at least under Southgate, there looks to be no way back.
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has also been informed that he will not be going to Russia
Time will tell whether dumping Hart and Wilshere is the right call. But it is a brave one. Taking the experienced pair would have been the easier option.
Hart’s omission means there will not be a survivor from the 2010 World Cup when Southgate names his 23-man party for Russia on Tuesday. Indeed, it will be the first time England have picked a completely different squad from that of a World Cup eight years earlier.
His decision to select midfielder Fabian Delph, who doubles up as a left back in the squad, could allow him to select one less defender, in turn allowing him to pick more attackers — as does Eric Dier’s ability to play at centre back.
So expect Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford to all be on the plane to Russia. That is an exciting prospect.
Time will tell, of course, if Southgate has got the balance right. What happens if one or two of his centre backs get injured in Russia?
The manager must answer those questions when he speaks publicly about his squad for the first time at Wembley. As per usual, he will be polite and courteous. But Mr Nice Guy? No chance.
WHY JOE HART HAS BEEN AXED
Joe Hart has not performed like England’s No 1 for West Ham in the Premier League this season.
As our stats show, his England rivals have all played better…