England manager Gareth Southgate has staunchly defended his decision not to utilise Marcus Rashford further at the World Cup.
The Three Lions were dumped out by eventual runners-up France in the quarter-finals last month, with Rashford playing a mere five minutes as a late substitute. Southgate was criticised for his decision to leave the Manchester United star on the bench for so long and Rashford's outstanding form since the tournament has only lent more credence to that argument.
With 10 goals in his last 10 games at club level, the 25-year-old forward is in the form of his life. However, Southgate stands by his call to play the likes of Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka ahead of him, as Rashford's only start came when he bagged a brace in the final group game against Wales. "I think people are looking at his form post-tournament as much as anything," the England boss told ITV.
"Had Marcus played and the result being like that, they'd have been saying Phil Foden should have played, or Jack Grealish, so I've got peace with what we did and how we went about it. I also know that's how the narrative always works after our games."
With the March internationals less than two months away, Rashford is a shoo-in for a call-up. The Three Lions face Italy in their Euro 2024 qualifying opener in Naples and then welcome Ukraine for a friendly at a sold-out Wembley. Southgate's place on the touchline wasn't always certain, though, having taken time after the World Cup to evaluate his position as manager.
Ultimately deciding to stay on, the 52-year-old has revealed that his family were the driving force behind his decision. "They left Doha saying you've got to give this one more go and try to get this trophy," Southgate explained.
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"There was negativity about me being in charge [following the humiliating 4-0 defeat to Hungary last summer] and the last thing I wanted was for that to be the over-arching feeling going into a World Cup when you need the fans and everybody behind the team. You need that energy; you need that sense of togetherness.
"And if the debate was only going to be about finding flaws in what we were doing, in order that I go at the end, then that would have been very difficult for the team to perform at their best. I'm in a job with the chance to make some history and I have the privilege of leading the national team. It's been an unbelievable experience."
"I think we've made progress with the team across the years we've been in charge and I'm determined to try and drive the team that next step," he added. "I think now we're in a different landscape to any previous England team I guess, because of the success we've had. In our own minds winning is probably the only thing that’s going to fulfil us."