Rashford continued to show his undoubted potential earlier this week when he scored a hat-trick for England U21s in their 2017 UEFA European U21 Championship game against Norway. It was his debut for the under 21s, having played three games for the senior team after being a surprise selection in Roy Hodgson’s English squad for Euro 2016.
The papers were quick to look for Rashford’s promotion back into the senior squad, with The Independent saying that the 18-year-old had made a mockery of his ‘demotion’ from senior level with his performance. However, despite Rashford’s obvious talents, one game at that level against an average side does not make him above a level that includes players four years his senior. The fact it is considered that way is perhaps part of the reason why England struggle at major tournaments.
England’s disregard for the U21s is bizarre considering the positive effects it has had on several national teams. In 2009, Germany won the European u21 Championship with a team including Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil. It was a fantastic team that learnt their trade together and developed combinations that would help lead to the 2014 World Cup victory, where the six players all played a big role in Germany’s win. A spectacular Mesut Ozil dominated the tournament, which no doubt gave him the confidence to then kick on and play a starring role in the 2010 World Cup and eventually play for Real Madrid.
In 2011 and 2013, it was Spain who won the tournament with strong squads relative to their age group. In 2011, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez came from a World Cup winning squad to help Spain secure the victory. In 2013, a star-studded Spanish squad including David De Gea, Koke, Thiago, Isco and Morata beat an Italian team that included Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne. Spain won Euro 2012, and while Spain have flattered to deceive in recent tournaments, few would put it past them winning a tournament with some of those players in the future.
The last edition of the tournament was won by Sweden but the effects of the 2015 u21 Championship have already been seen by Portugal with a spectacular 5-0 win over Germany getting them to the final. Four of that squad would make Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning squad, with Raphael Guerreiro, William Carvalho and Joao Mario all impressing in the tournament.
Meanwhile in these tournaments, England have qualified but have left key men who would qualify at home every single time. Luke Shaw, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley are among those who have passed on the tournament when a full-strength squad would surely have given them a great chance of winning.
Rashford is the latest player to have been pushed at being ‘too good’ for the under 21 level, despite the fact that he has only been playing senior football for around six months. Rashford has played a grand total of 20 games at senior level for Manchester United. Javi Martinez, when he played for Spain at the u21 Euros in 2011, had played 186 senior games. Isco had been the key player at Malaga, leading the team to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2011. David De Gea played in the 2013 tournament after being named in PFA Team of the Year.
It’s questionable whether Rashford is ready to start for England ahead of the likes of Sturridge, Kane and Vardy. England have already arguably beaten the toughest team in their World Cup qualification group away from home and will play the likes of Malta and Lithuania in their group. Would it not be more beneficial for Marcus Rashford to learn to dominate his own age group (let’s not forget that Rashford is only 18 as well) before rushing him onto international seniors?
Rashford could qualify England for the U21 Euros, score six goals in the tournament en route to England winning against the best of Germany, France, Spain etc at that age. In five or six years time, there’s a good chance that Rashford will come up against those players again and again and he will know he was once a better player than them. He will be ready for action at the 2018 World Cup
Is that not better development than coming off the bench for 10 minutes against Malta?