Wayne Rooney is no longer guaranteed a place in every England squad, manager Gareth Southgate declared on Thursday, as he painted a stark picture of the team's true global standing.
Rooney, 31, was left out of the 26-man squad announced by Southgate for next week's friendly against Germany in Dortmund and World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley.
Routinely selected by England for the past 14 years, Rooney has lost his place at Manchester United and Southgate hinted it is time to start planning for life without him.
"You can't always have that parachute or life-jacket of having these senior players around," Southgate told reporters at England's St George's Park headquarters in Burton-on-Trent, central England.
"Part of the development over the next few years is exposing these younger players to the pressure games to see how they deal with it."
Citing the competition Rooney faces, Southgate added: "We have to look at Wayne as a number 10, which is his predominant role.
"In the last two games we've played Dele (Alli) there, we've played Adam Lallana there.
"Both are playing very well, scoring and assisting for their clubs. Ross Barkley has been playing very well for his club.
"So there's competition. I can't dress that up any other way. There are some very good players and it's a battle to get in this squad. Wayne totally understands that."
Although Rooney has been carrying a knee injury, Southgate indicated his lack of playing time with United meant he would not have been called up even if he had been fit.
Rooney, England's record goal-scorer and most-capped outfield player, has been invited to attend a planning meeting with the rest of the squad when they convene at St George's Park on Monday.
But Southgate effectively conceded that, given he is no longer a first-team player, Rooney cannot be automatically considered England captain anymore.
- 'Harsh lens needed' -
"We have this thing about 'an England captain', but really the captain is the person that is captain in the next game or the game on the next day," said Southgate, who succeeded Sam Allardyce late last year.
"The key for me is how do we develop more leaders? It's not something I think too much about really."
Humiliated by Iceland at Euro 2016, England have not won a knockout game since the 2006 World Cup in Germany and Southgate said it was time the country stopped thinking of itself as a football superpower.
"One of the things I want to talk to the players about is the fact that we always talk about what we'd like to achieve, but don't look at the reality of where we are," he said.
"We've won three knockout games in 25 years and the last one was in 2006. Whatever we think we are as a nation, we've not been delivering.
"I think there's a harsh lens needed on some of the things we are doing. We need to look at who the top teams are and how we get to their level."
When it was put to him that the England manager's job is one of the biggest in world football, he replied: "Well, not if we've only won three knockout games in 27 years, respectfully.
"It is on our island (Great Britain), but I remember going to the World Cup in Brazil, scouting, and they have those montages before the game of highlights of previous tournaments.
"And it suddenly struck me: we're not on them. None of our players are on them.
"We think we're whatever, but I'm looking at it and there's all the Brazilians, the Spaniards, the French, and we're not there.
"And I'm almost sinking into my seat because you walk in there thinking you're part of England, which I'm massively proud to be.
"But actually, on the world stage, we're not there at the moment and we've got to turn up."