Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Portugal POR

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Gareth Southgate believes Rashford on par with Rooney and Owen at same age

Gareth Southgate believes Marcus Rashford is as mentally developed as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen were at the same age, but now it is up to the teenager to use his platform to become an England great.

Since netting a dream brace on his debut for boyhood club Manchester United in February 2016, the 19-year-old's rise has shown no signs of abating.

Rashford has won the FA Cup, Community Shield, EFL Cup and Europa League, while he was fast-tracked into Roy Hodgson's Euro 2016 squad after netting minutes into his debut against Australia.

It took until Monday evening for the attacker to score his second international goal but it was worth the wait, recovering from gifting Slovakia an early lead to stylishly fire England to a 2-1 victory - and the brink of World Cup qualification.

Such a display as a teenage Three Lions forward leads to inevitable comparisons to Owen and Rooney, who both flourished at his age before going on to become fifth and first in the country's all-time scoring charts.

"I am sure from his point of view he would rather be compared to them than not," Southgate, former international team-mate of both players, said. "He is obviously a different type of player.

"He is as mature as they were in terms of their understanding of the game and the way he picks concepts up.

"But, yeah, it is up to him now. He has a great platform to build from, he has a really good influence at his club in terms of Jose (Mourinho), keep him grounded and we'll do the same here.

"What's been nice on his pathway over the last few years is that it has all been joined up.

"We used to speak to Ryan Giggs (when assistant to Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal) about which team to put him in because we didn't want to put him in the 21s too early.

"So up to this point, I think he has been really well handled and we have to make sure we continue to do that."

Southgate has met Rashford's mother and brothers, who are a "good influence" on a modest player with confidence and maturity that belies his tender years.

The England boss believes United have played a role in that, pointing to the "good values" instilled in the forward and the likes of fellow squad members Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane.

Playing in front of more than 70,000 people at Old Trafford also sharpens the mind, making Rashford ready for almost anything - even if his rise to Hodgson's senior team came as a little surprise to then England Under-21s boss Southgate.

"When Ryan (Giggs) was working as assistant manager, Marcus had just broken into the team and we were deciding which age group to put him with," he said.

"We felt maybe putting him in the Under-21s straight away would put too much spotlight on him, so I think the club were grateful for that.

"But then Roy picked him for the seniors about two months later! So that plan was out the window but you can also see why because, blimey, the impact he had at the time and then immediately with England was fantastic."

Now it is about giving Rashford the best chance to shine next summer, which was behind his absence from the England squad at the Under-21 European Championship.

"Well, the great thing is that if you look at our forwards with Dele (Alli), who is only a year older than Marcus, and Harry (Kane) is only a couple of years older, we have some really exciting players coming through," Southgate said.

"And some underneath that with the Under 21s, so that's really encouraging. We know we can score goals.

"We have to get the other bit of our game right as a team and if we can then we are dangerous in any game."

There are a glut of options on top of the aforementioned trio, with Manchester City's Raheem Sterling one of those able to get people on their feet on his day.

The winger struggled in Malta on Friday and was replaced at the break and was given a few minutes off the bench against Slovakia.

"His reaction to being taken off was brilliant. I mean it's not easy for any player to be taken off at half-time, but I think he understands that we have belief in him," Southgate added.

"I said after the game that he's got a really tough mentality and he showed that. His response in training was really good.

"Again he's another who is only two years older than Dele, so he is another young player who is improving all the time."

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