Jose Mourinho is on a collision course with England manager Gareth Southgate over the potential involvement of Marcus Rashford in the European Under-21 Championships this summer.
The Manchester United manager does not want Rashford, whose stunning extra-time goal against Anderlecht on Thursday night secured his club’s place in the Europa League semi-finals, to go to the tournament in Poland in June.
Mourinho believes there is no benefit to Rashford, a senior England international, dropping down a level and would prefer the 19-year-old striker to have complete rest during the close season after representing his country at Euro 2016 in France last summer and a hectic schedule this season.
Rashford has featured in 44 of United’s 54 games so far this season, with the club facing a maximum of 10 more matches.
But Southgate said last month that he believes “the best thing” for Rashford’s confidence and development would be to play in the Under-21 tournament, which puts him in direct confrontation with Mourinho.
Southgate said he planned to talk to Mourinho, and it is understood there is ongoing dialogue between the Football Association and United and their medical staff, but the situation could come to a head in the coming weeks. Aidy Bothroyd’s side’s first game at the tournament is against Sweden in Kielce on June 16.
Asked if it was unreasonable of the FA to expect Rashford to go, Mourinho said: “I don’t want to go in that direction, I just feel that when a player reaches a certain level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drop levels.
“It’s like now I am going to play [Rashford] in the Under 23s, to win let’s say a derby against Man City? No. Nicky Butt [the reserve team manager] doesn’t pick him to play that game. He could by age but when you reach a certain level, and you reach that level for a long time, I don’t think it makes sense [to drop down] but the power is in their [the FA’s] hands.”
Mourinho could also face a similar problem with Axel Tuanzebe, the 19-year-old centre-half he is considering calling up for Sunday’s trip to Burnley, after an injury to Marcos Rojo against Anderlecht left the manager with Eric Bailly as his only fit, recognised central defender. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are also injured.
Tuanzebe, whose only appearance for United this season was as a 68th-minute substitute against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup in January, is expected to be named in the England squad for the Under-20 World Cup in Korea next month. The deadline for squad submissions is May 8 with England’s first game against Argentina on May 20, when United’s season will still be ongoing.
“Now I even have to think that Axel Tuanzebe has to go to the under something World Cup in Korea because maybe Axel has to come now [to the United first team], now we need everyone,” Mourinho said.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata also on a mounting injury list, and fatigue becoming a growing problem in his squad, Mourinho has admitted United “are in trouble”.
But the shortage of numbers could open the door to Wayne Rooney and Mourinho remains confident that the United and England captain can still play an important role, despite being largely frozen out since the turn of the year and headed for the exit door at Old Trafford.
Even at his peak, Rooney often took time to get back up to speed after time out of the team, either through injury or suspension, and he has made just one league start since December 17.
“He has a good mentality, he is a fighter,” Mourinho said of Rooney. “He is a strong man, even if he is not in the best condition, even if he is not in the level of sharpness that you need to play high-level football, but he has the experience and character, so he has to. Now we need absolutely everyone.
“We are in trouble. In this moment, Eric Bailly played six matches in a row, and we lost Marcos Rojo and we don’t have Jones or Smalling. We are in trouble and now we lose Zlatan too. But in attack, we have options and Rooney is coming, and let’s see if Mata can also return before the end of the season. Let’s see what happens.”
United are awaiting the outcome of tests on Ibrahimovic, whose right knee locked against Anderlecht, and Rojo, who injured his left leg, with Mourinho admitting he was fearing the worst. But Luke Shaw offered some optimism about Ibrahimovic. “He’s fine, he was walking around the changing room,” the United defender said.
Mourinho said Ander Herrera and Ashley Young, both kept on the bench against Anderlecht, would start against Burnley.