Saturday 21 April 2018

Gareth Southgate: It would be 'inconceivable' to omit Marcus Rashford from the England squad

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - OCTOBER 11: Marcus Rashford of England speaks with Interim England Manager Gareth Southgate as he prepares to come on as a substitute during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Group F match between Slovenia and England at Stadion Stozice on October 11, 2016 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (Photo by Michael Regan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - OCTOBER 11: Marcus Rashford of England speaks with Interim England Manager Gareth Southgate as he prepares to come on as a substitute during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Group F match between Slovenia and England at Stadion Stozice on October 11, 2016 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (Photo by Michael Regan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Rory Dollard

England manager Gareth Southgate ended the possibility of a club-versus-country row over Marcus Rashford by insisting it was now "inconceivable" to leave the striker out of the senior set-up.

Midway through the season the 19-year-old Manchester United player looked set to spend his summer at the Under-21 European Championship - a prospect that met with a frosty reception at Old Trafford.

But Southgate stepped in to settle matters after Rashford enjoyed a strong second half of the season, including him ahead of his United team-mate Wayne Rooney in a 25-man squad to face Scotland in a World Cup qualifier on June 10 and France in a friendly three days later.

While Rooney's England days appear to be all but over, after an outfield record of 119 caps and an umatched haul of 53 goals, Rashford is now seen as a Three Lions mainstay and, like Dele Alli, will not be asked to turn out for Aidy Boothroyd's in Poland.

"It would be inconceivable not to put him in the senior squad. He is in the squad on merit and has been for a year," Southgate told thefa.com.

"The question then is: could he have gone with the Under-21s after that? In my opinion, no. He's a 19-year-old player who's had an exceptional season and by then will have had virtually 60 matches by that point. Somebody has to protect him. Somebody has to manage the development of a young player, and that has to be my call."

Southgate admitted he had been erring towards handing Rashford tournament experience with the Under-21s earlier in the campaign, with game-time limited under Jose Mourinho at United, but aided by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury he ended the season as an important starting player, earning his international spurs.

"In January that was probably where I was heading with it. He wasn't a regular in Manchester United's team and he hadn't done quite as well for us in November," Southgate explained.

"In March, it was important that he was with the senior squad as we didn't have Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge or Danny Welbeck. His impact on our games (against Germany and Lithuania) and the way he trained with us was very impressive.

"He then went back to Manchester United and was in their team right the way through to the end of the season, playing in big high-pressure matches. His mentality has been excellent and his performances have been very, very good."

In addition to Rashford, Southgate has been able to summon Premier League golden boot winner Harry Kane for the first time as national boss, while Sunderland's Jermain Defoe retains his place after scoring against Lithuania on his recall in March.

Elsewhere, Stoke's Jack Butland is back as one of four goalkeepers after a year of injury trauma which started on England duty in Germany.

Tottenham's Kieran Trippier is rewarded for dislodging Southgate's first-choice right-back Kyle Walker from the Spurs side with a maiden call-up, while Middlesbrough's Ben Gibson and West Ham full-back Aaron Cresswell are also involved.

On Trippier, Southgate said: "He and Kyle will have been pushing each other every day and, in my opinion, they along with Nathaniel Clyne, are the three best right-backs in the country.

"He has had limited game time at Spurs but he fits the profile of a full-back that we like - he's very good with the ball and I like his mentality. He's a player we wanted to bring in so he gets a feel for how we work, and it's a good opportunity for us to look at him."

Arsenal's Theo Walcott misses out once again, as does team-mate Kieran Gibbs, while a handful of players with fitness or conditioning concerns - including Welbeck, Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Michael Keane, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere - do not feature.

Gary Cahill, who wore the armband for the majority of Chelsea's title-winning season, is an obvious candidate to captain the team in Glasgow and Paris, but Kane is also considered a long-term option.

''The Scotland game is one of football's great fixtures," said Southgate.

''We're in a place in the group where a win can really put us in a very strong position, and that's what we want to achieve.

''France is a great challenge for us. Our ambition with our friendly matches is to play the best possible teams - we've done that by playing Spain and Germany already. They're teams we want to test ourselves against and these are great opportunities to learn and improve.

''A game away in the Stade de France will be a brilliant occasion for the players.''

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