Southgate told me to stay in the Premier League - Lingard
Jesse Lingard and John Stones were key men for England at Russia 2018 and are now back after spells in the international wilderness.
Jesse Lingard has revealed Gareth Southgate pointed him down the path towards an England recall. Southgate will take charge of his 50th game when England begin their World Cup qualifying campaign against San Marino at Wembley on Thursday.
His first, against Malta in October 2016, was also Lingard's international debut and the attacking midfielder became one of Southgate's key performers as England charted a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. However, struggles for form and fitness at Manchester United, along with difficulties in his private life, saw Lingard fall out of the Three Lions picture. In January he joined West Ham on loan and has been a player revitalised.
Lingard rediscovers form at West Ham
Five goals in seven Premier League appearances for David Moyes' men earned an England recall for the 28-year-old, who thanked Southgate for his counsel and his influence over the Hammers move.
"He's shown a lot of support and belief in me, he gave me my England debut, which I'm proud of," Lingard told talkSPORT. "I still kept in contact with him even though I wasn't playing, just to get his advice on what I should do. It was just about the right move, whether it was going out to Europe or staying in the Premier League. He said, 'If I was you, I would stay in the Premier League'. After that, it was about finding a Premier League side and West Ham fitted in perfectly."
Since his West Ham debut against Aston Villa on 3 February, only Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho (six) has more Premier League goals than Lingard (five), while he is level with England captain Harry Kane and Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan over the period in question. His 12 shots on target are a joint Premier League best along with Kane, giving him a shot conversion rate of 23.8. Lingard also has two assists for the Hammers and has created eight opportunities for team-mates overall.
Stones back in the frame with England
Another man in from the cold, although less dramatically, is Manchester City centre-back John Stones. Like Lingard, Stones was a mainstay at Russia 2018 but last played for England in November 2019 after his club form dwindled. However, a supreme centre-back alliance with Ruben Dias for Premier League leaders City made a recall for the 26-year-old a virtual formality – not that he necessarily viewed it that way.
"It was difficult watching from home," Stones told reporters, having also acknowledged Southgate "texted now and then" when he was out of favour. "You feel a bit helpless that you can't contribute and be a part of the squad, but I used it as a motivation to strive to be better. When I got the text the other day, it was a great feeling to be back involved and see all the faces I've got some great memories with. I was very nervous. I had worked so hard and I was hearing people say, 'you should be in'. But I didn't take any of that in until the text arrived. I wanted to hear from the source. I was absolutely made up."
City remaining in contention for four major honours shows how impressive their overall performances have been this season, but with Stones in the team their record verges on the absurd. In 20 games where the former Everton defender has not played, Pep Guardiola's men have won 13, drawn five and lost two for a 65% win rate. In these games they conceded 19 times. Out of Stones' 26 appearances, City have won 24 alongside a draw and a loss and have conceded only seven times. This tallies to 0.3 goals against and 2.8 points per game and a win percentage of 92.3.