Gareth Southgate has explained why Marcus Rashford has received a place in his latest England squad, noting that the 19-year-old had been picked in light of an excellent end to the 2016/17 campaign.
And Southgate, soon after announcing his squad, was quick to note that Rashford’s performances of late have merited an inclusion.
“He’s in the senior squad on merit, and has been for a year,” he said.
“He had one game with the Under-21s when I was there in September and he was outstanding that day, but he’s not really been a part of the Under-21 squad.
“His performances warrant him being in the senior squad.
“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.”
“In my view, Marcus’s situation is different. He’s played fewer games in this Under-21 campaign than Eric Dier and Dele Alli – we’re not sending those guys, and we won’t be sending Marcus.
“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. It would be inconceivable not to put him in the senior squad.”
I’m sure Rashford may feel entitled to a break now. Not many 19-year-olds play 53 games in a season at the highest level and still, as seen against Ajax, have the reserves to give absolutely everything right at the end, but then again: this is no regular 19-year-old we are dealing with.
Jose Mourinho‘s arrival has precipitated a sudden maturation of Rashford’s entire game; he has convincingly gone from being a great goalscorer to a great team player – indispensable, even. Next season promises to be monumentally important.