Gareth Southgate admits that he’s keeping tabs on Bukayo Saka’s progress at Arsenal but for the moment he’s happy to let the 18-year-old develop with England’s under-21s.
Saka enjoyed an outstanding season at club level, scoring four goals and registering 11 assists in 38 games. He was rewarded with a new long-term contract at the Emirates and handed the coveted number 7 shirt.
The winger’s rise to prominence is known to have piqued the interest of Nigeria, for whom he also qualifies to play, and led to suggestions that England should fast-track his senior debut in case he follows the lead of Alex Iwobi and switches allegiance.
Facing the press after naming his England squad to face Iceland and Denmark in next month’s friendlies, Southgate made clear Saka is firmly on his radar but wants the youngster to spend the upcoming Interlull in the hands of Aidy Boothroyd.
“He’s obviously with the Under-21s this time and I feel he’s more of an attacking player,” he said.
“I know he’s played at left-back and he’s given good contributions there in an attacking sense certainly.
“At the moment left wing-back, left side higher up the pitch, I know he’s played in midfield and on the right as well but that they would be his better positions. He’s a very exciting player.
“It is still early for him but he’s a player we like and we monitoring very closely.
“Saka had a very good season with Arsenal, [he was] not in the team at the very end but really good season of progress and he’s a player watching very closely.”
To date, Saka has been capped at under-16, under-17, under-18 and under-19 levels so a move to the under-21s represents progress.
England’s under-21s kick off their qualification campaign for their own European Championships on 4 September in Kosovo. They then face Austria five days later, just three days before the Premier League season starts.
Confirmation of the full England under-21 lineup could be interesting. Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe are also in with a chance of call-ups.