Marcus Rashford and the case to remain in England’s Euro 2024 squad

Marcus Rashford’s first taste of the European Championships came as an 18-year-old for a side whose campaign culminated with ignominious defeat to Iceland. His second brought another ill-fated ending: with injury reducing him to a bit-part role, he had a late cameo at right-back and as a specialist penalty taker in the Euro 2020 final. And he missed the spot kick: inches from perfection, he instead struck the inside of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s post. Perhaps a shootout swung on it: Harry Kane and Harry Maguire had scored before, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed afterwards.

Third time lucky in Euro 2024? It may have looked that way when Rashford scored a glorious goal to give England a modicum of revenge against Italy in October. Even as his form for Manchester United suffered, he excelled for England. Then Rashford looked a probable starter in Euro 2024. Now the danger is that he will not even be part of the squad.

Rashford was granted a mere 15 minutes over the two friendlies against Brazil and Belgium, even with injury meaning neither Cole Palmer nor Jack Grealish played any part. One interpretation is that, with Rashford’s place secure, Gareth Southgate experimented with others. Yet the possibility is that Rashford will be overtaken amid the charge of the newcomers, a sprinter seeing others time their run into Southgate’s plans to perfection.

Rashford faces a nervous couple of months as Southgate picks his Euros squad (The FA/Getty)
Rashford faces a nervous couple of months as Southgate picks his Euros squad (The FA/Getty)

Certainly the England manager offered few assurances that the sixth most-used player in his reign will go to Germany and plenty of praise for the alternatives. There may be five players competing for two places in the squad and it is apparent that Anthony Gordon, who started instead of Rashford against Brazil and came on rather than him against Belgium, and Jarrod Bowen have impressed.

“Well, I wanted to see Anthony Gordon,” said Southgate, instead of replying directly about Rashford. “I think he’s been excellent for his club. And obviously Marcus got on in the first game. But I wanted to see Gordon again. I thought [James] Maddison coming on would have an impact and Bowen has also had a really good camp. I said when I named the squad there is competition for places in those wide areas. A bit of a shame that Cole Palmer missed so much training that we weren’t able to put him into the game [against Belgium] at the stage it was having missed most of the week. We weren’t 100 per cent certain what we would get whereas with Gordon we knew and Maddison we knew. I wouldn’t rule Cole out of that equation.”

Nor would he rule Grealish out. The £100m man has been largely ineffectual at club level this season, has a greater tactical importance for Manchester City than England and, like Rashford, has often tended to be a substitute at international level. There is a marked difference in their output, though: whereas Rashford has 16 goals in 56 caps under Southgate, Grealish has two in 35.

The former Aston Villa player had been sidelined, recovered enough to be an unused substitute against Newcastle two days after Southgate had named his squad but, the England manager said, was not considered for selection, rather than being dropped.

“He’s definitely not out of the picture,” he explained. “I spoke to him before I named the squad. He was he was back into training but I didn’t think for these games he was going to be at a physical level to be able to compete but as I said when I named the squad, Gordon and Bowen are pushing those guys.”

Rashford and Anthony Gordon are now competing for a place in the England squad (The FA/Getty)
Rashford and Anthony Gordon are now competing for a place in the England squad (The FA/Getty)

Now they are pushing harder. The risk for Rashford is that he has been shoved aside. Even as his club form has improved, with goals in his last three games for United, it is indisputable that each of Gordon, Bowen and Palmer has had a better season.

Part of Rashford’s case comes from continuity, from a fine World Cup suggesting he has the talent to excel in tournaments, from his scoring record, even if he has scarcely been clinical this season. If Grealish, too, is relying on Southgate’s capacity to be loyal to his regulars, there are a couple of warnings in Kalvin Phillips, cast aside for this squad, and Raheem Sterling, now an afterthought.

Sterling was more fundamental, more symbolic, more certain of his place than Rashford ever was. But he was also a victim in part of the rise of a newer group of wingers. Now Rashford could be imperilled by their emergence. Injuries may yet resolve Southgate’s dilemma, but it promises to be a nervous couple of months for Rashford.

Euro 2024 could complete a hat-trick of disappointments in the European Championships for him. But if the anguish came on the field before, now it threatens to come when the England squad is named.