Commentary

Wildcard Rashford could be the ace up Hodgson's sleeve

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By now, the remarkable rise of Marcus Rashford has probably gone beyond the stuff of Roy of the Rovers cliche.

By now, the scriptwriters would be looking to slow things down, but instead, after three months that have brought eight goals for Manchester United, an FA Cup winner's medal, a huge new contract and now a place in England's Euro 2016 squad, the 18-year-old would be forgiven for feeling he is unstoppable.

Roy Hodgson initially felt it was "well too soon" to be talking about Rashford as an England senior player, suggesting that it "might do more damage than good". That was five weeks ago. Hodgson no longer sees a downside. What he sees is a teenager whose form is so scintillating that it has prompted him to take a fifth centre-forward to France even if it leaves gaping holes elsewhere.

Hodgson has included Rashford because he believes him capable of making an impact. The mistake, at this stage, would be to think that this means an impact on the level of Michael Owen as an 18-year-old at the 1998 World Cup or Wayne Rooney at the same age at Euro 2004. Rashford is not going along to make up the numbers, though - not when it has meant leaving behind another midfielder, in Danny Drinkwater, and another genuine wide player, in Andros Townsend.

"I'm not hugely surprised by that, to be honest with you," said Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, upon hearing of Rashford's inclusion. "I've watched that young man all season and he is a class act."

The reality is, though, that, for at least the first six months of this season, nobody, including Hodgson, would have given Rashford the slightest thought when it came to the England squad this summer. He was not being called up for England's development teams and was struggling to be a regular in United's Under-21 side.

He (Rashford) will not be England's Plan A, Plan B or perhaps not even Plan C initially, but Hodgson would not have taken the youngster to France if he did not have plans to use him.

An injury crisis led Louis van Gaal to pick him for United's Europa League tie at home to Midtjylland on Feb 25. He scored two goals that night, two more against Arsenal three days later, and has not looked back.

It has been an astonishing rise for the youngster from Wythenshawe. He was always regarded as one of the most promising talents in his age group at United, but even within the club, there is a sense of wonder at how well he has adjusted to a higher level.

Europa League? Two goals on his debut. Premier League? Two goals on his debut. Manchester derby? Winning goal on his debut. England? A goal on his debut against Australia on Friday.

He is undoubtedly raw, but he oozes flair and confidence on the ball in the final third of the pitch. He will not be England's Plan A, Plan B or perhaps not even Plan C initially, but Hodgson would not have taken the youngster to France if he did not have plans to use him.

Hodgson's initial instinct was that this was a tournament too soon, but that has all changed now. Hodgson concluded that the risk of taking Rashford was far less than the risk of leaving him behind.

There are not too many surprise packages in international football, particularly in a country like England, but Hodgson feels that Rashford is ready to give the squad a sense of the unpredictable.

You could not, after all, have predicted this.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Wildcard Rashford could be the ace up Hodgson's sleeve'. Print Edition | Subscribe