Belfast Telegraph

Gareth Southgate keeps England door open for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney

Gareth Southgate insists Wayne Rooney's England career is not over and has been puzzled by suggestions to the contrary.

This has been a chastening year for the 31-year-old forward as restricted playing time has led onlookers to not only query his role for the Three Lions and Manchester United but his future at the top level.

Talk of a possible Old Trafford exit rumbles on, so too whether there is a place for the country's all-time record scorer in Southgate's remodelled England set-up.

Lukas Podolski's farewell match in Germany on Wednesday sparked talk of a warm Wembley send-off for Rooney - a conversation that Southgate says is far too premature.

"He's absolutely (in my thinking)," the England boss said of the 119-cap forward.

"I didn't quite understand why we were talking about tributes when he has still got every chance of being in this team.

"I'm conscious that we'll be talking about Wayne again and I'm hoping to be talking about the players who are here, but there's no reason why he is finished with us."

That was the most forthright Southgate has been about Rooney during an international break in which he has deployed an aggressive, high-tempo attack that it would seems difficult to shoehorn the former Everton player into.

The England manager's move away from the notion of a permanent captain also raised questions over Rooney's future, fuelled for some by the United man's non-attendance at Monday's meeting at St George's Park where Southgate outlined his vision.

" It was no problem," Southgate said of Rooney's absence .

"The more important thing for me was those guys felt they'd been invited, which I just said to Harry (Kane).

"The important thing wasn't that they couldn't come - it was important that they felt part of the group.

"We need a bigger squad. It just means I'll have to put a few more miles on the clock going round and seeing them."

Southgate last week mentioned game time as well as fitness when quizzed on Rooney's absence for the friendly in Germany and Sunday's World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

The forward is not alone in finding minutes restricted but the England manager says that will not necessarily rule players out of his thinking.

"The ideal scenario is that (players will be playing regularly), but we have got 70 English players playing in the Premier League," Southgate said. "Of those, some have finished playing for England - some have retired officially and some have unofficially retired.

"In an ideal world, you have all your players playing and playing at the highest possible level and playing in Europe and everything else.

"But we have got to be open-minded because we want the right characters through the door and there are moments when a player isn't playing for his club, like with Luke (Shaw), where you think this might just give him a bit of a lift, a boost.

"I don't want to have a hard and fast rule because I might break that in the future at some point."

United left-back Shaw seems a prime example.

The youngest player to feature at the 2014 World Cup, the 21-year-old has made just three appearances in 2017 - and one of those came off the bench in Dortmund on Wednesday.

Jose Mourinho has regularly overlooked Shaw despite him being fit since mid-January, but Southgate was keen to avoid a club-versus-country row.

"That's for him and his club to deal with," Southgate said. "He has got a challenge now to get himself into the team there.

"I think Luke's sole focus has got to be how can he get himself back in the team if he is not in the team.

"There's a challenge for every player. We want competition for places, we have got competition for places in every area of the field.

"If you are at a club like Manchester United, that's going to be the same so as an individual how are you going to do everything you can to get back into the side?

"People say that managers pick teams, but really players do because of the way they train, the way that they are, the way they play.

"They make your decisions as a manager so that is the challenge Luke has at the moment."

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