England Women manager Mark Sampson has offered a glimmer of hope to out-of-favour striker Eni Aluko.
The Chelsea Ladies player has scored 33 goals in 102 games for England but was dropped last May ahead of a Euro 2017 qualifying double-header against Serbia, and has not been involved since.
Aluko said in an Evening Standard interview last week that “the most difficult thing has been not being able to explain to people why it ended so abruptly”.
Her exclusion is all the more striking given Aluko, sister of Fulham forward Sone Aluko, finished as top scorer in the 2016 Women’s Super League with nine goals in 13 starts.
Sampson has not been oblivious to that form, and insists he would not exclude anyone from his future plans.
Asked about Aluko’s impressive goal return, Sampson said: “I think those kind of statistics and that kind of form definitely puts players on the map.
“Always in football or any team sport you’ve got to look at the dynamic of the group and you’ve got to look at how do our team play compared to the qualities of individual players, and when you put all the squad pegs together you want to make sure that puzzle is nice and complete.
“That’s our challenge, to look at the quality of the players and all the other areas that are important to our level of performance, and we’ve got to look at that right blend and balance in the group to put out effective winning teams, and that’s what we’re always trying to do.”
Given Aluko’s extended absence, it appears Sampson sees the 30-year-old in a different light to Chelsea Ladies boss Emma Hayes, for whom she is fundamental to the Blues’ set-up.
But Sampson told Press Association Sport: “The door is closed for no one. The one thing we all want to do is win. We’ll always try to make the right decisions to make the team win.
“I never like to talk about individuals who are not in the squad because we’ve got so many and if we speak about one there’s five or six, or even 10, in that bracket. But I think everyone’s aware of the levels and the standards we want, and the bar’s been raised now to be an England player.”
England Women beat World Cup winners the United States at this month’s SheBelieves Cup, but they lost to likely Euro 2017 title rivals France and Germany and have scored just twice in five matches this year.
They have home friendlies against Italy and Austria next month, before the focus turns to Euro 2017 in July.