Marcus Rashford’s breakout season last year saw him start as an emergency option in a very threadbare United side, and ended with him being United’s key player going forward. This astoundingly quick rise to fame saw Rashford included in England’s Euro 2016 squad, where he was a bright spark off the bench for the Three Lions. England’s disastrous time at the Euros was not at all exemplified by Rashford, one of the only English players to leave Euro 2016 without a decline in reputation.
However, regardless of his superb rise to fame and potential, new England manager Sam Allardyce made a fair claim that it will be hard to include Rashford in England’s squad, so long as he is not receiving playing time for United. Rashford remains an important member of United’s squad, but Jose Mourinho’s purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has kept him out of the team as United’s primary striker.
“Rashford is not playing now so it makes it harder for me to select him, as exciting as he was last year and how he burst on the scene. At such a young age, do I say, ‘Go and play in the Under-21s, get used to international football there, play regularly there and it will help you eventually, hopefully to break into the Manchester United team and then break into the England senior team’? You’ve got all those scenarios to consider.”
Rashford’s rise to fame began when Anthony Martial was injured in the build-up to United’s crunch clash with FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. Rashford, chosen to start the game minutes before it started, made the most of his chances, scoring twice against Midtjylland and then grabbing another brace that weekend against Arsenal in the Premier League. He also scored the winner at the Etihad between then and United’s disappointing end of the season, making him ‘undroppable’ to former manager Louis van Gaal.
However, the same sentiments have not been taken to by Mourinho. The new Portuguese manager’s instinct upon joining United was to snap up Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free, and while the Swede is scoring goals for fun, Rashford has been unable to play minutes for United in their first two Premier League games.
The media and fans of opposing sides have criticised Mourinho’s signing of Ibrahimovic by restating claims that he isn’t the right, youth-promoting manager for Manchester United, but this is not relevant to the situation involving Rashford. The Wythenshawe youth product was the only natural striker at Manchester United at the end of last season, and, at 19, it would be incredibly harsh to make him be the part on his own. Ibrahimovic was the best striker available, but he was also brought in to provide incredible experience and mentorship to Rashford, and aged 34, he will slowly cede more playing time to Rashford as Mourinho slows down his career to maintain his best football.
Rashford doesn’t have the same level of quality as Ibrahimovic, but he brings a lot to the table from a tactical perspective. Playing on the shoulder of the last defender, Rashford’s tireless movement and boundless energy make him a nightmare to defend, and when combined with his pace and new-found composure at the senior level, he is an asset most Premier League clubs would love to have. In the most obvious way possible, Rashford offers something completely different to Ibrahimovic.
Rashford, 19, should start around 20 matches this season, which may not be enough to warrant selection for the England squad during World Cup Qualifiers. However, his raw skill, fearless running, and searing pace are not common in this current generation of English talent, which means he could prove to be quite useful for England regardless of how many matches he plays. Deployed in the culminating minutes of England’s Euro defeat to Iceland, Rashford looked threatening from the right, motivating some to believe England would’ve scored if Rashford was substituted on earlier.
If Rashford keeps his head down and works hard, he will be a star for England eventually, but he needs to keep his head below the chopping blocks of the media. Rashford should be concerned with improving his footballing ability as opposed to playing for England at this time. In fact, not playing for England could be better for Rashford- instead of being thrown in the deep end with the youthful likes of Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli. There’s a lot more to come from Rashford, and England would likely end up being a distraction from his ultimate goals.