Marcus Rashford has been pushed out by England’s new generation – and he might never return

Marcus Rashford played in a European Championships at 18, four months after he was an unknown who had never played first-team football. At 26, a year after the season of his life, he has not made the provisional 33-man squad, let alone the final cut. The rise of Rashford was initially a swift, startling affair. If last season brought the resurgence of Rashford, with a career-best 30 goals, this brought a sudden, shocking fall that has led to a further precipitous drop, out of England contention.

Some 12 players were listed as forwards in Gareth Southgate’s training squad for Euro 2024. Rashford was not one of them. “With Marcus, I just feel other players in that area of the pitch have had better seasons. It’s as simple as that,” he said. The comparison with Jarrod Bowen, scorer of 20 goals for West Ham, or Anthony Gordon, in double figures for Premier League goals and assists, did not flatter Rashford. He was overtaken by the emergence of Cole Palmer, who delivered 25 goals and 14 assists in a remarkable campaign for Chelsea, and the end-of-season flourish from Eberechi Eze, who scored five times in his last six games for Crystal Palace.

But the warning signs were there before then and they went unheeded. Rashford only got 15 minutes as a substitute in England’s March friendlies; Bowen got 103 over the two games and Gordon 85. If the temptation was to think that Southgate had little more to learn about a player who has won 57 of his 60 caps in his reign, it was not merely a fact-finding expedition about two inexperienced players. Southgate had advised Rashford his place might be at risk. He then regressed when progress was required.

Marcus Rashford is set to be excluded from Euro 2024 (The FA via Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford is set to be excluded from Euro 2024 (The FA via Getty Images)

“I did talk a bit with him in March about his season [and] others who have been playing very well in that area of the pitch,” he said. Rashford arrived then in his best run of form of the season, scoring in three consecutive matches for Manchester United. Since that international break, Rashford has missed matches with minor injuries. But he has also failed to find the net in eight matches for his club; Palmer alone has nine goals in that time, sealing his own place in Southgate’s squad after missing the Brazil and Belgium games in March. Southgate has been blown away. “We believe the Gordons and the Bowens have had brilliant seasons,” he said. “We liked the hunger that they came in with in March. That gives a different dynamic to training and competition for places. It doesn’t allow complacency within the group.”

Now there is no place for Rashford in the group. And so it fell to the England manager to deliver bad news. “He was really respectful,” Southgate said. “I said to him: ‘You’ve got to go and score a couple of goals at the weekend now and put things right.’” The probability, though, is that Rashford will be on the bench for the FA Cup final; Alejandro Garnacho is now Erik ten Hag’s first-choice left winger. For club, as well as country, Rashford seems overtaken by the next generation, the oldest 26-year-old in the business risking becoming the past at a tender age.

“He wants to play for England, he loves playing for England and the opportunity to play in tournaments is why you play international football,” said Southgate. If Rashford is suffering from extraordinary competition for places on the flanks in England’s attack, there is the sense two tournaments have brought opposing experiences: first came the heart-warming return, when he timed his burst into the 2022 World Cup squad and scored a minute into his tournament; then, after his glorious goal against Italy helped seal England’s place in Euro 2024, Rashford will miss it.

He is young enough to figure in Euro 2028, perhaps even Euro 2032. But a possibility is his last kick of a ball in the European Championships is the penalty he put against the post in the final shootout against Italy three years ago: brought on as a specialist spot-kick taker and auxiliary right-back, his cameo brought heartbreak. Then, hideously, racial abuse. He has often been scapegoated. He may be again; as with Jordan Henderson, there may be some schadenfreude about his fall.

Rashford may be on the bench for the FA Cup final (PA Archive)
Rashford may be on the bench for the FA Cup final (PA Archive)

“You are conscious for Marcus and Hendo really of the impact because they are two people who externally, they have people jump on them very quickly and I think they know I am there to support them,” said Southgate.

But there are precedents, talismanic figures who have been pensioned off before. Rashford's England career is not necessarily over at 26; but there is no guarantee of another act. Raheem Sterling has not been called up since the World Cup; he may not be again. Southgate can be ruthless but not, he would argue, cruelly so.

“I would hope not brutal because I think the players would accept they’ve been supported at certain moments,” he said. “We’ve had to evolve. We had to clear space for other people to come through. The job is about making difficult decisions at certain times. You can’t shy away from that. I don’t think I ever have. They’re hard conversations but you do them as respectfully as you can.” Now he hasn’t shied away from a decision about Rashford, and his wretched season has taken a turn for the worse.