Gareth Southgate insists he was trying to "protect" Trent Alexander-Arnold when he dropped him from his England squad and has hinted the Liverpool full-back could play in midfield at the European Championship.
Alexander-Arnold was a shock omission for the World Cup qualification triple-header in March, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp among those to question the decision.
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The 22-year-old has been recalled by Southgate as the England manager named a 33-man provisional squad for this summer's rearranged Euro 2020 tournament.
That number will get cut to 26 by June 1 and it remains to be seen if Southgate retains all four right-backs he has named.
Alexander-Arnold, a Premier League and Champions League winner with his club, fell out of favour with England after a slight dip in form.
But Southgate professed surprise at the reaction to his decision when speaking after naming his squad on Tuesday.
"Trent is very much in contention," he said when asked if Alexander-Arnold was the most likely of the right-back options to miss out.
"People tend to think I don't think Trent is a good footballer, that just isn't the case. He has indirectly come in from some criticism at a certain time and I felt the need to communicate more with him than anyone else over the past couple of months but I think his performances have been very good.
"I don't mind the criticism of my decisions, that's part and parcel of it. But he is a young player we have got to look after and care for.
"I'm a little bit surprised by some of the things that have been written about that because people just don't know those communications that have gone on. But that is credit to Trent that he has kept that to himself."
But, in suggesting some of those names could be utilised elsewhere on the pitch, Southgate did not bat away the idea of Alexander-Arnold slotting into midfield.
"I think there is no doubt he could," he added.
"Of course the difficulty is he hasn't had the opportunity to do that since he was a younger player and that's where he came through in Liverpool's academy.
"He's a fantastic passer of the ball and he has great passing vision. So he's a playmaker from right-back, that's kind of what he is. So why wouldn't that lend itself at some point of his career to being in midfield?"