- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

LONDON (AP) - In four years, Danny Drinkwater has gone from being a Manchester United reject to the England squad.

The 26-year-old Drinkwater is the latest success story to emerge from a Leicester team mounting an improbable Premier League title challenge.

“He’s had a fantastic season in a team that’s having a fantastic season,” England coach Roy Hodgson said on Thursday after selecting Drinkwater in his squad for the first time.

“In that area of the field (midfield) the competition is quite fierce. On this occasion I thought it was an opportunity to bring him in and see if he can reproduce the type of football he’s shown for Leicester at international level.”

Drinkwater will be in contention to make his England debut in friendlies this month against Germany and the Netherlands - the final games before Hodgson selects his European Championship squad in May.

Ahead of Euro 2012, Drinkwater was ditched by United after graduating from the academy but never making the first team, instead spending his time on loan in the lower leagues.

Drinkwater joined a Leicester team in early 2012 playing in the second-tier. The transformation of Drinkwater and his team since then has been remarkable.

The Thai-owned club was promoted to the Premier League in 2014 and narrowly avoided relegation last year before surging up the standings to lead by five points heading into the final 10 games of this season.

“Roy follows us for so many matches and maybe he wants to feel and to know him better. Maybe he can bring him for the European Championship,” Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri said. “(Drinkwater) is always available for his teammates to ask for the ball, to have a personality. There is a very good partnership with (N’Golo) Kante, they understand together and it’s solid.

“I like him because when he goes into the tackle he wins the tackle. I am pleased, his teammates are pleased, everybody. It means we are working well and he deserves it.”

Drinkwater is in the squad alongside Leicester teammate Jamie Vardy, one of Hodgson’s striking options in the absence of the injured captain Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United forward injured ligaments in his right knee last month and still hopes to be fit for the European Championship, which starts in June.

“At the moment, looking at the front six of the team, we have an awful lot of alternatives to play in different ways,” Hodgson said. “Wayne as our captain is an important part of that.”

England prepares for Euro 2016 at Germany on March 26 and against the Netherlands three days later. They are England’s first games since Hodgson’s assistant, Gary Neville, took his first steps into management.

Neville surprisingly took charge of Valencia in December until the end of the season, but the Spanish team has lost three of its last four league games, dropping to 12th.

Neville will be back with England during the international break.

“He will find it a breath of fresh air coming back to a different environment and an environment where he is comfortable,” Hodgson said.

Neville spent much of his post-Manchester United playing career as a TV pundit before taking the part-time coaching role with England in 2012. As for Neville continuing to combine his Valencia and England duties, Hodgson said: “I don’t see any problems at all.”

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England:

Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Manchester City).

Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham).

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).

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