Twenty one – the number of minutes Marcus Rashford spent on the pitch during the 2016 European Championships in France. There’ll be no more this summer. England has failed in the round of 16 once again, humiliated by a country whose inhabitants number around 300,000 – only a little more populous than the City of Salford.
To put that number in further perspective – a Icelandic male has a 1 in 2000 chance of representing his country. Better odds than Leicester City winning last season’s Premier League title. That’s the depth of Roy Hodgson’s failure.
The stark contrasts should take nothing away from the Iceland team, which performed superbly to continue an unlikely fairytale into the last eight of the tournament. It may well end against the hosts France on Sunday, but few thought it would ever begin.
Iceland’s meek status should offer little excuse for Hodgson though, whose failure ranks as highly as any England manager. This is, after all, still one of the world’s biggest footballing nations.
Without a plan coming into the tournament, whatever the English manager tried in terms of tactics and team selection seemed to fail. At no point did his team regain the rhythm it had discovered during a successful qualifying campaign.
Iceland will offer the narrative for England’s tournament, but it was Hodgson’s decision to make wholesale changes to his line-up in the final group game against Slovakia cost the team momentum.
Despite heavy rotation in that game Marcus Rashford, Manchester United’s young English starlet, was offered no opportunity to influence a critical fixture. He didn’t even get off the bench.
Rashford was limited to 17 minutes against Wales, during England’s spectacular second half come back, and a measly four against Iceland. Yet, three English forwards, all ahead of Rashford in the pecking order, each struggled to make an impact. In the end the youngster’s exclusion made little sense.
Indeed, Rashford’s cameo against the Welsh was impressive, as he injected pace and verve after entering the fray at 1-1. Rashford used his pace well on the left side of England’s attack, and already seems in his element on the international stage. Rashford’s composure at the tender age of 18 is already startling.
The teenager’s appearance against Iceland was brief too, but arguably he injected more direct running and intent into the team than in the other 80 plus minutes without him on the pitch. In another lifeless England performance, the question rings loud as to why Hodgson was so hesitant to use his rising young star.
Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana both suffered shocking tournaments, but seemingly retained the manager’s faith throughout. Harry Kane barely enjoyed a clear chance all tournament, while Daniel Sturridge was the only England forward to end the Euros having made a meaningful contribution.
While Hodgson showed vision to take Rashford to France, his conservatism on the pitch eventually cost him his job. The veteran’s reluctance to go on the attack or make positive changes left England without an attacking mentality – critical when the side failed to kill off teams they should have beaten, and sometimes out-performed.
Yet, with England desperately chasing a result against Wales, Hodgson was forced into attacking changes – it proved to be by far the best half of football from the English in the competition. England scored twice and came back from a goal down in the last 45 – the first time England has done that at an international tournament.
It is not just romanticism that called for Rashford’s involvement though. His youthful confidence shone through and he also lacks something most English players possess in abundance: fear. Rashford remained willing to run at defenders when others shrank – a cliché, but it is also true that the United striker also completed more dribbles – 3 – in his time on the pitch against Iceland than any other player in the game.
Hodgson’s loss may well be United’s gain. While Rashford played little in France, simply by spending time with his countrymen the teenager has gained valuable tournament experience. It is likely to serve him well at both club and international level in the coming years.
And while the player has not enjoyed a summer on the beach, he is unlikely to have progressed any nearer to burn-out after a few weeks on Hodgson’s bench. England’s early elimination is to United’s benefit too as Rashford can now take a little time before returning for Mourinho’s pre-season camp, a tour of China and a budding partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic!
There is, course, no doubt in Manchester that Rashford’s future is bright, even if the player’s summer was largely wasted under the now former England manager. After all, the 18-year-old held the potential to be the breakout star of the Championships. Thanks to Hodgson he never really got the opportunity.
It says much that while the country struggles to produce high-quality youth, an emerging star spent three weeks on the bench. Perhaps the next England manager will use his talents better than Hodgson did in France.