Gareth Southgate has conceded that young English talent Marcus Rashford will need more game time at Manchester United, or another club, if he’s to develop as fast as possible.
Rashford, now 20, scored England’s only goal in a 2-1 defeat to Spain in the UEFA Nations League at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening.
Finishing from a beautiful Luke Shaw ball into the box, Rashford netted for the fourth time for his country having now played 26 times for the Three Lions.
However, Rashford’s development has stalled in some aspects in the last two seasons. Man United signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton for an initial £75m in 2017 has proved a major block to playing time in a central position for Rashford.
England boss Southgate says Rashford can only improve now by playing more.
“He’s got a tremendous mentality, he’s got great talent and we think he’s got everything to go on and be a top player,” the 48-year-old said. “The only way for him to improve is by playing.”
Rashford was sent off after coming on as a substitute for United in a comfortable 2-0 away win against Burnley. That won’t have helped his case with club manager Jose Mourinho, who clearly likes Rashford, but is hesitant to give him chances ahead of Lukaku as a central striker.
Mourinho has relied upon Rashford on a number of occasions, most notably when Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered ligament damage in April 2017 and Rashford was brought in up front for the final games of the season, including in a key game against Chelsea in which he scored the only goal.
However, after United lost to Brighton & Hove Alison at the end of last season, without Lukaku playing, Mourinho lamented the media for encouraging him to give someone else a chance up front. United were poor, and so was their finishing. Mourinho used it as an opportunity to prove his point about Lukaku being by far and away United’s finest striker.
Rashford needs to prove him wrong. He is, though, still only 20 and Southgate was quick to ensure people didn’t focus solely on his comments after game time.
Instead, he hailed Rashford’s goal and all-round performance.
“I’d rather focus on the fact he got his goal, which was really well taken,” he continued.
“It was also a good save from the header, and he’s in the right position to try and finish the next one.
“As he gets more experience and confidence in those situations, he’ll finish them. He’s a player that in this period we definitely wanted to invest time in, so that’s why we started him.
“He knows we have real belief in him. He’s scored a goal and was in the penalty box more.
“At times, his previous goals have come outside the box which we know he can hit things.
“We’ve been encouraging him to get higher up the pitch, not drop quite as deep and he got his reward for that.
“Yeah (it’s a big two years for him). I think we also have to remember his age and what he’s achieved in a short period of time.”
Rashford has two summers to challenge Harry Kane for the England starting spot up front for the next European Championships in 2020. By that time, Mourinho may no longer be at United, or perhaps Rashford won’t be.
But there’s also the chance that Rashford will be given and take a chance at United and the pair will both be at Old Trafford in two seasons time.
Rashford does need more time playing as a striker for United. He can often look as if he’s lacking sharpness when playing as a lone striker because he’s so often used as a left-winger by Mourinho at United.