Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene this February and marked his debut with an impressive brace against FC Midtjylland. He followed that up with a wonderful double at home which sunk Arsenal. Since then, he has gone on to find the net a total of seven times in 12 appearances including crucial winners in the Manchester derby and the FA Cup replay against West Ham.
Understandably, many are getting excited by the meteoric rise of this talented 18-year-old. This has manifested in calls for Rashford to be picked for the England squad for Euro 2016. Appearing on the Fletch and Sav show, Robbie Savage gave his support for Rashford’s place in the squad.
“He is playing without fear,” he explained.
“OK, it is all hypothetical, but if he keeps this form between now and the end of the season – he is playing in a struggling Manchester United team and he is playing without fear.
“If he scores ten goals this season and is on form going into that tournament, I would take him.”
Savage is not known for his level-headed and insightful punditry and these comments come across as particularly naive. Rashford is a hot prospect for the future, and undoubtedly an immensely gifted one, but he is simply not ready to make the jump into representing England at a major tournament.
From a psychological point of view, playing for England can be a hugely overwhelming experience. The pressures of a nation’s expectations can be a burden even for experienced professionals, let alone a teenager who has been playing first-team football for a matter of months.
Indeed, history shows that premature call-ups can be detrimental to a player’s development. Theo Walcott is a prime example. At 17, he was a shock pick for the 2006 World Cup squad. Sven-Göran Eriksson argued that being part of the tournament would prove valuable experience for the youngster. In reality, Walcott was thrust into an England camp that was surrounded by negativity, besieged by a frantic media circus and unable to reach its potential. Ultimately, England limped out in the quarter-finals, with Walcott not playing a single minute of tournament football. In the inevitable backlash, Walcott’s inclusion in the squad came under heavy scrutiny.
And just like Walcott in 2006, it’s difficult to imagine where Rashford would actually add value to the current squad. England find themselves with an abundance of attacking options. Kane, Vardy and Rooney have all but booked their seat on the plane to Paris. Assuming Hodgson takes five forwards to France, Rashford would have to be picked over either Welbeck or Sturridge. The former has proved versatile and dependable for Hodgson, whilst the latter is an established goal-scorer.
Thankfully, it seems the England management team has taken a measured and conservative attitude to Rashford. Hodgson is reluctant to fast-track Rashford into the senior team. Similarly, England U21s manager Gareth Southgate has expressed his belief that Rashford should prove himself with the U21s first.
Speaking about Rashford he said: “We are very conscious that when you promote a young player too quickly there can be fallout from that and at times the right thing is to move them back down and that is always more difficult.”
Hodgson and Southgate have taken the correct approach because Rashford needs time to nurture his game. The best place for him to do this is at his club, where he can enjoy his football and progressively gain more big match experience. If Rashford continues to fulfil his enormous potential, then he will surely be an important player come the 2018 World Cup. However, Euro 2016 has come too soon for him.