The Chelsea full-back was not included in the 26-man squad for Qatar despite revealing he was ready to ‘take the risk’ with the knee injury he suffered at the end of September.
James was left ‘devastated’ by his omission with Merson insisting he should have been selected and saved for the knockout stages of the competition.
And the former Arsenal and England star believes Southgate would have been more willing to take the risk were Kane carrying an injury into the tournament.
‘If it was Harry Kane he would be going – what’s the difference? We aren’t going to win the World Cup without having James in the team,’ Merson wrote in his column for The Star.
‘He is a shoo-in to start and if we took him, he plays in England’s team every day of the week. He is one of our best players.
‘If it was Kane, they would say ‘right we’ll take him and use him after the group stages’.
‘We are as bad as anybody at the back so we need to take one of our best players. I just don’t understand it. He is as important as Kane.’
Merson believes Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is more than capable of holding down the right-back role in the group stages, but insists James will be missed should England come up against the likes of Kylian Mbappe and France.
‘Reading his statement, he feels like he is going to be fit in a few week’s time,’ Merson continued. ‘Now I would have only used him in the knockout stages anyway.
‘I’d have wrapped him up in cotton wool because you can use Trent Alexander-Arnold in the group stages where you have 70 per cent of the ball and he’s going to look a world-beater.
‘Then when we come up against France and he falls asleep and Kylian Mbappe scores we’ll all be scratching our heads. I am shocked.
‘Having a squad of 26 players gives you a safety net to take a risk and bring an injured player. It’s usually 23 and we still have taken injured players in the past.’
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