Gareth Southgate has said he believes Ivan Toney "deserves his opportunity" after including the Brentford striker in his latest England squad despite awaiting the outcome of a Football Association (FA) hearing into alleged betting breaches.
The England boss named his 25-man squad on Thursday for Euro 2024 qualifiers away to Italy and at home against Ukraine later this month, also handing calls-ups to Ben Chilwell, Reece James and Marc Guehi.
However, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben White, Conor Coady, Callum Wilson and Raheem Sterling were all omitted, although Southgate stated Sterling's absence was due to injury and the Chelsea winger would have been in included if available.
Sources have told ESPN that Toney, uncapped at senior international level, has admitted some of the 262 alleged breached of betting rules and is therefore facing a potentially lengthy ban. However, the final hearing is yet to take place and Toney is protesting his innocence in some of the individual cases.
When asked to explain his decision during a news conference at St George's Park, Southgate said: "The fact is, he [Toney] is playing 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, really.
"Before the World Cup, Callum Wilson had a brilliant run of form, hit form at just the right time and he has had a little bit of an injury that has inhibited his performance in the past few weeks. Ivan's been consistent across the season. He's playing really well. I like his presence in games. I saw his game at Arsenal where I thought he was outstanding and he deserves his opportunity."
White has been left out of Southgate's squad despite enjoying a fine campaign with Premier League leaders Arsenal. The defender departed the camp prematurely at the World Cup without playing a single minute at the tournament. At the time, the FA cited "personal reasons" but on Wednesday, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insisted White was available for selection.
"It is similar with Ben and Trent really. The three boys that are in as right full-backs, we've got them just ahead of those two. We are blessed in that position with a depth of talent.
"It is the hardest position to pick, although it is never straightforward criteria and it is always shifting around a little bit on form as well. But Kyle and Trips were the ones that played during the World Cup, have been consistent and Reece coming back is another top player. We'd love to have that depth in every position on the field, really."
"It is a complicated situation," Southgate said. "I've spoken at length with him. The fact is as we sit here at the moment, he is back playing with his club. There is no conclusive evidence to leave him out at this stage so I think I've got to be very careful on being the moral judge on things.
"We've had a couple of long conversations and we feel we want him with us, we feel that was the right thing to do. But we also know that when you are an England international, there is an even higher bar on how you conduct yourselves and what is expected. I don't think we are taking those decisions lightly. But we are where we are with it."
Sources have told ESPN that the FA will make a decision on Monday to decide whether to call up a replacement for the midfielder.
Defenders: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), James Maddison (Leicester City), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United)