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Marcus Rashford: England's forgotten man conspicuous by his absence ahead of Italy reunion in Nations League

Marcus Rashford's last touch in an England shirt was his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final against Italy; Manchester United forward has been omitted from Gareth Southgate's last two squads and faces a pivotal period ahead of the World Cup

Marcus Rashford
Image: Marcus Rashford is close to the nadir of his career

"I think it is important, perhaps after this camp, for me to go and sit with him and find out a bit more about what is going on. We know he is desperate to do well."

Gareth Southgate was acutely aware that Marcus Rashford's omission from England's squad for March's international friendlies with Switzerland and Ivory Coast at Wembley was going to attract scrutiny.

The forward had been searching for a break in a struggling Manchester United team, but the form of those in his position had made the England manager's decision to leave him out of his 25-man squad a relatively straightforward one.

The numbers didn't stack up favourably.

Raheem Sterling ended the campaign with 19 goals from 54 games. Bukayo Saka scored 15 in his 50 games for Arsenal and England. Jarrod Bowen finished on 18 goals from 51 matches in West Ham colours. Phil Foden scored 14 goals and provided 11 assists in 45 games for Manchester City.

By contrast, Rashford would end the season with four goals and two assists from 25 league appearances. His contract expires next summer and The Times reported this week that Tottenham were rebuffed in their attempts to sign him.

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Jamie Redknapp said Rashford needed to leave Manchester United to rediscover his love for the game

Speaking in April, Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports: "This is a young man that I believe has to go and explore and go to do something else.

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"He looks like he's fallen out of love with the game right now. Go and play somewhere, because there's no doubt there's a player in there.

"There will be hundreds of clubs that would want him. He's had enormous success against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain in Europe.

"Clubs in England would want him - Tottenham, Arsenal - everyone would want him. But I think his time has run at Manchester United."

Has Ronaldo inhibited his development?

Marcus Rashford had two good early chances
Image: Rashford endured a stop-start 2021/22 season

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports in December 2016, Rashford spoke about his goal of becoming the "ultimate centre-forward", benefitting from the perfect mentor Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"We have a lot of great sessions and it's important we keep them fun because that's the best way to learn in my opinion.

"If the training sessions are fun you get what you want to get out of them."

Having made his England debut as an 18-year-old, it felt like the world was at Rashford's feet, but the fun seems to have gone.

His body language and attitude have been brought into question by former United players and pundits.


His desire was to become a No 9, but during those breakthrough years he was happy to bide his time. The arrival of Edinson Cavani followed by Cristiano Ronaldo, however, pointed to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not fully trusting him to lead the line, feeling he was more effective from the left.

Ronaldo's return last summer only further placed Rashford towards the flanks, where at times he has even had to compete with fellow new signing Jadon Sancho despite the hefty fee paid to finally secure his services from Borussia Dortmund.

Such has been Rashford's decline, whether that be by virtue of poor form or through fitness issues, Ralf Rangnick was often preferring to use academy graduate Anthony Elanga as he fell further down the pecking order.

Yet for a player still only 24, having had the likes of Ibrahimovic, Cavani and Ronaldo as role models and, in David de Gea, honing his finishing against one of the best goalkeepers in the world, the pieces are all in place for Rashford to fulfil his potential.

Rashford's heap maps for Premier League only
Image: Rashford's heap maps for Premier League only

Each attempt by the club to step up a revival since the Sir Alex Ferguson years has fallen flat on its face. Gary Neville has previously described United as "an odd bunch", referring to the inconsistency in performances, and Rashford is perhaps the poster boy of this current guise.

That would appear somewhat harsh given that this isn't any ordinary footballer making his way through Old Trafford.

He is fondly championed for his off-field commitments, honoured with an MBE in December 2020 for his efforts to ensure free school meals for children, and his petition to end child food poverty surpassed a million signatures.

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Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher discuss whether Marcus Rashford has 'hit a ceiling' at Manchester United

Rashford certainly has value to society beyond his athletic skillset but he must put his true talent to good use now.

"We all believe he can be an asset for his club and for his country," said Southgate.

"With one or two of our players in the past, who have had dips and come through them, you can say, 'look, they came through that, they responded well and became more strong and they showed the character needed'.

"That is what he is going to have to prove now in the coming weeks and months. Nobody's career goes smoothly from start to finish and of course his rise from when he first broke into the team at United was incredible, really."

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Former Manchester United midfielder Quinton Fortune said Rashford is a talented young player who needs time and patience

Saha's advice to Rashford: Don't copy Ronaldo

Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha has urged Marcus Rashford not to try to copy Cristiano Ronaldo.

Instead, the Frenchman believes Rashford should take inspiration from some of United’s youngsters in order to revitalise his game.

Rashford endured a frustrating season for United, netting just five times and losing his place in the England squad.

Having five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo alongside him in the ranks might make the place to seek motivation seem obvious, but Saha would advise the 24-year-old differently.

"I think he’s a terrific player, I love him," Saha said. "I don’t really understand why this happened because this guy has got it all.

"He's got all the quality, he’s got speed, he’s got arrogance, dribbling and can score goals.

"He needs to come back to basics and, it is strange what I'm going to say, but maybe not copy Cristiano Ronaldo, copy some of the other team-mates who are young.

"You need get back to the young Rashford, having that simplicity in his game and running players, not thinking about whatever the status that he had or he has been given by the press or his entourage. He has suffered a lot from that."

Ten Hag offers Rashford a fresh start

Marcus Rashford came on in the second half
Image: Rashford only scored four goals in 10 starts last term

Rashford scored 56 goals and provided 37 assists in the three seasons leading up to Euro 2020, despite often being plagued by injuries.

United's reluctance to sell a homegrown talent to a direct Premier League rival is obvious, but the player himself knows he is facing a make-or-break summer as he looks to impress new head coach Erik ten Hag.

Jamie Carragher said on the latest episode of The Overlap: "Marcus Rashford is just not quite good enough for Manchester United.

"That's all it is. That's it, he's not quite good enough for Man United. He is at the level of Tottenham or Arsenal.

"He's not going to win you the league or the Champions League. You'd need the two up front with him to be megastars and he'd be the addition."

Having struggled for confidence and started just 13 of those 25 league matches, Rashford would be the first to admit his performances haven't been of the required standard - and he has wasted no time this summer in working on his physique with his own personal trainer.

United's reported dismissal of Spurs' interest should act as a show of confidence in him, but in truth it comes at a time when Ten Hag is still on holiday and before the Dutchman has had a chance to make a decision alongside football director John Murtough on the make-up of his playing staff.

Rashford is just one of several players in an underperforming squad. Southgate has the luxury to remove such a problem with a wealth of attacking options but with limited time to prepare for Qatar.

"I think Marcus is very realistic," added the England manager. "He knows he is in a situation where he has not been getting in the United team consistently and he will be searching as much as anybody to get that form back."

Rashford has his critics, but proving his ability to himself is perhaps his biggest challenge over the coming weeks.

Rashford has pedigree against top nations

England's Marcus Rashford reacts after missed a penalty shot during the penalty shootout during the Euro 2020 soccer final match between England and Italy at Wembley
Image: Rashford hit the post with his penalty against Italy

His last kick of a ball for England was a missed penalty in the Euro 2020 final against Italy, who England host at Molineux this Saturday in the Nations League.

Rashford was recovering from shoulder surgery when he missed the first two international breaks of last season - missing the World Cup qualifiers against Hungary, Andorra and Poland.

He subsequently withdrew from Southgate's England squad for the games against Albania and San Marino in November, with the forward using the two-week Premier League break to focus on regaining his fitness after a bout of illness and a long injury lay-off.

AP - Marcus Rashford
Image: Rashford hasn't been seen in an England shirt since

The return of Roberto Mancini's side to these shores will bring back haunting memories for Rashford after his failure from 12 yards contributed to England's wait for a major trophy stretching into a 56th year.

He showed such courage but struck the post having been called upon in the closing stages of extra-time by Southgate. While the likes of Saka have had the chance to exorcise those demons, Rashford - and indeed his club team-mate Sancho - have endured frustrating campaigns.

Neither made the squad for this June's condensed schedule [Sancho suffered a bout of tonsillitis that required a stint in hospital] on merit. Both only have one more international break in September to prove they should be on the plane to Qatar.

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Andy Cole was surprised Rashford didn't start in Manchester United's 1-1 Premier League draw with Leicester City in April

One such incident last term summed up the pair's struggles as Rashford appeared to tackle Sancho during United's 3-2 win over Tottenham in March. Ten Hag must find a way for them to not step on each other's toes both figuratively and literally. If they thrive at club level, Southgate will have a blueprint for success on the international stage.

England's two performances in the Nations League so far have been underwhelming, and those who have been selected ahead of Rashford and Sancho are yet to underline their supremacy albeit at the end of a long and arduous season.

Instead the focus has been on Southgate, who needs another statement win.

Some would argue the first of his tenure was achieved back in October 2018, after reaching the World Cup semi-finals via a favourable route, when Rashford scored and shone in a 3-2 win away to Spain in the inaugural tournament.

As he sits down to watch England host Italy in the Nations League on Saturday night, this winter's World Cup will feel further away than ever. But the door remains still open for Marcus Rashford to make a return.

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