It does not feel real, admits Rashford
Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30
To put a bit of Euro 2016 context to Marcus Rashford's remarkable rise, the 18-year-old striker had not even made his Manchester United debut when the Panini sticker album for the tournament went to print.
And here is another. As the England squad boarded the plane at Luton Airport bound for Paris last Monday to begin preparations for the finals, Rashford wore the official £199 Marks and Spencer team suit but without the Three Lions crest embroidered on the breast pocket because he had not been measured up in time and had to take one off the peg.
Little wonder that as he sat in the gardens of the luxurious Auberge du Jeu de Paume hotel in Chantilly, chaperoned for his first media interview by England and United captain Wayne Rooney, Rashford admitted the whole experience of being in this squad "doesn't feel real".
This year Rashford had set himself a more modest target: to stake a claim in United's U-21 team. Instead he is vying with Rooney, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy for a place as one of the strikers when England kick off against Russia in Marseille tomorrow.
No-one expects Rashford to start. Indeed it would be a surprise if he was involved in the game at all, with former United striker Andy Cole among those questioning the wisdom of including the teenager and drawing a parallel with Theo Walcott, who was taken to the 2006 World Cup, aged 17, but has played in only one major tournament since.
"He went at that age and his career has never really kicked on as a regular player in the national team for England," Cole said. "Marcus is being rushed. He's had a fantastic season but he gets in the Euros squad to sit on the bench or to sit in the stands.
"If you're going to be involved and play games then that's experience. But when you look at it and Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge are all there, is he going to play in front of any of those guys? Most probably not."
It is an arguable point and time will tell. What is interesting about Rashford is not just the impact he has made with eight goals in 18 appearances for United and scoring on his England debut after just 138 seconds but the assured way he has taken to it all.
Speak to anyone in the England camp and they have been impressed by his temperament as much as his technique and a low-maintenance style in which he easily follows instructions. Plus there is his talent.
"I like everything about him, he seems a nice guy first and foremost, which is good," said goalkeeper Joe Hart. "Good player - really sharp, really quick, he's put plenty past me (in training). He is a good finisher, a good addition and someone I am sure we are going to see a lot of in the future and I am really happy, aside from the football, how he has been."
England have assigned Rashford a hotel room next to United team-mate Chris Smalling and, as he conducted his first interview, Rooney sat alongside him to interject.
"At the time he came into the team at United, we were going through a bit of a bad period and to come into the team and take to it like he did was incredible really," Rooney said of Rashford's debut in the Europa League tie against Danish side FC Midtyjlland on February 25 as a late replacement for Anthony Martial, who was injured in the warm-up.
Rashford scored twice and recalled that evening himself as he spoke shyly in the afternoon sun to the Football Association's own television feed.
"Back then I was actually trying to work my way into the 21s side and all of a sudden I appeared in the first team - you have to be ready when your chance comes," Rashford said.
"I wasn't really thinking about the England set-up as much because at United there was a lot of games coming thick and fast. At the end of the season you hear talk and stuff, but to be here now is just amazing."
It is amazing. And a moot point - as Cole stated - as to whether he will be involved at all in the tournament. There is a sneaking suspicion that he just might be.
"When I first went into the changing room and saw all of the players' names on the back of their shirts, it doesn't seem real," Rashford said of his England debut in the friendly against Australia. "I remember going home after and speaking to my brother about it, and he agreed with me - he didn't think it was real either. That's what it's like until you get used to it."
That may happen very soon. (© Daily Telegraph, London)