Playing Time At The Euros Should Be A Wakeup Call For Marcus Rashford

The United star only played 83 minutes at Euro 2020. He should be asking why that is, and then get working on the answers

I really didn’t want to write about Marcus Rashford again because I feel like I’ve made all my points about him and anything more would just be reiterating the same thing. That’s especially true since a month ago I penned 3500 words on “what is Marcus Rashford?” This could easily be the same thing and there’s just no need in putting that out again.

However, in reading all the post mortem’s of England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final there was one paragraph in The Athletic that really caught my eye. I tried to ignore it because - again - I didn’t want to write about Rashford again, but damn it I had thoughts on it and this is Kwest Thoughts.

The topic was about a disappointing Euro campaign for Rashford (penalty aside) where he barely saw the pitch. This didn’t come as quite a shock to me but it was interesting to see who else it didn’t come as quite a shock to.

People at Old Trafford who are hoping Rashford can find the areas of weakness and work on improving them. That’s enough to make you go “hmmmm.”

There are certainly areas for Rashford to improve on if he wants to force his inclusion more often. If I were Rashford the first thing I would be doing is asking “why didn’t I play more?” and then identify the areas that you need to work on.

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Marcus Rashford was never in danger of not making the squad. He’s been an ever-present in the England squad since Southgate took over in 2017 and his club form has stayed incredibly consistent throughout.

But what would Rashford’s role be at Euro 2020?

Now that things have played out we see the answer.

Rashford only played 83 minutes in this tournament. His longest spell came when he played 25 minutes with England up 4-0 against the Ukraine. He also played 23 minutes as England looked to see out a 1-0 win against the Czech Republic, and 19 minutes with a 1-0 lead against Croatia. The only time he came on with a chance to do something was the final 16 minutes of England’s 0-0 draw with Scotland, and of course Rashford coming on to play right back for the final minute of the final before penalties.

And there is your answer.

Rashford was there to take penalties. Yes the decision didn’t work but coming into the tournament Rashford had converted on 14 of his 16 career strikes for club and country. He also burried his penalty in the Europa League final as well as in England’s win over Colombia at the 2018 World Cup. He’s a stone cold penalty taker.

But other than penalties, Rashford’s only other role was to go eat up minutes and save Harry Kane’s legs as England tried to see out matches in the late stages. That’s not exactly a thrilling role, but to ask why he didn’t see other action comes back to the same question.

What is Marcus Rashford?

Marcus Rashford is a really good footballer who is quite good at a lot of different things but he’s not great at any one particular thing.

That’s a bit of a problem when we’re talking about Gareth Southgate’s England. Everyone in Southgate’s squad has a role. They all have a purpose and those qualities were behind every decision Southgate made.

Mason Mount starts over Jack Grealish because of defensive abilities, off the ball work, and tactical discipline. Southgate wants to play with two wingers on their ‘off’ sides, so Sterling plays on the left and left footed Phil Foden plays on the right. When Foden can’t go it’s Bakayo Saka coming in over Jadon Sancho partially because Saka is left footed and partially because Saka is better defensively than Sancho.

You may not agree with all the decisions Southgate made - and I certainly don’t - but his reasoning behind them stayed consistent throughout the tournament.

Where was Rashford going to get more minutes?

Plan A isn’t working and you need someone to get in the box and get on the end of crosses? That’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s game, not Rashford’s. Need to add some creativity on the left hand side as well as the ability to carry the ball into the box? No one is better at that than Jack Grealish.1 Need a dynamic winger? That’s what you have Jadon Sancho for.

Harry Kane was often used as a means of occupying the centerbacks to free up space for the wingers - specifically Raheem Sterling. That’s not Rashford’s game so bringing him on to do that wouldn’t have made sense, nor is a like for like replacement for Raheem Sterling. Sterling excels at coming off the wing and getting into the box in good shooting areas. Rashford doesn’t do that.

That’s the crux of the matter. Rashford’s good at a lot of things, but other than taking penalties, for any specific trait that England needed off the bench, there was a player on the bench better at that particular thing than Rashford.

That’s what Rashford is going to have to have a long think about in the coming weeks. Identify which traits you can work on - improving your left foot, off the ball dynamic runs, getting into good scoring positions in the box to get those dirty goals - that could take you from a good player to a great one.

With the arrival of Jadon Sancho, Rashford’s place on United’s left wing is no longer set in stone. Don’t forget, last season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted to sign both Sancho and Grealish. Signing both would have left Rashford on the periphery of United’s first team.

Instead Ole got Donny van de Beek - whose skillset is a great compliment to Sancho - but not Sancho, leaving Van De Beek a little lost. Now that Sancho is here Van de Beek may take off, putting Rashford’s time in even more jeopardy.

Rashford is at a cross roads in his career right now. He’s always had the potential to become a superstar but so far, he hasn’t hit that level.

Players who become superstars tend to make “the leap” in their third year. Rashford is about to enter his sixth season of first team football. Late bloomers are incredibly rare but I still think he can get there. He’s just running out of time.

If Rashford is going to get to the next level his lack of playing time at Euro 2020 has got to be a wakeup call that he needs to add another element to his game. It’s now or never.

UPDATE:

Ok so I wrote this post before Rashford elected to have surgery to repair his shoulder (which will simultaneously give his ankle some much needed time to heel. This is great news as Rashford has hardly had a break over the last 18 months and desperately needs his body to fully heal.

It also means, no more excuses. Can’t blame poor form on injury. Once he returns and gets a few matches under his belt… you gotta perform.