Marcus Rashford showed the future could be bright for England after his stunning debut for the Under-21s, but could a lack of regular action slow down the progress of England’s best young talents?
Rashford took all the headlines as his hat-trick on his England Under-21 debut helped Gareth Southgate’s side to a 6-1 win over Norway to leave England on the verge of qualification for next summer’s tournament in Poland.
Manchester United star Rashford was omitted from Sam Allardyce’s first England squad for the win over Slovakia and dropped down into the Under-21s after being part of the senior England squad at Euro 2016.
Allardyce has suggested he would not pick players for the England who were not playing regularly for their club and that is where the problem lies for Rashford and co.
Rashford has played just 19 minutes in the Premier League this season, coming off the bench to score a late winner against Hull City and despite his hat-trick heroics on international duty he is likely to find himself on the bench for this weekend’s Manchester derby, with Jose Mourinho reticent to change a winning team for the showdown at Old Trafford.
Rashford’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric as this time last year the young striker was making an appearance off the bench for Manchester United’s Under-21s against Rochdale in the Lancashire Senior Cup first round.
Since then Rashford has burst onto the scene scoring twice on his Manchester United debut against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League and followed that up with a brace against Arsenal on his Premier League debut three days later.
He went on to help United win the FA Cup final last season and was rewarded for his impressive form with an England debut against Australia in May, marking it in style with a goal after just three minutes.
Rashford was then included in Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad for the Euro 2016 finals and made two appearances off the bench in England’s miserable campaign in France.
Rashford’s electrifying performance against Norway will lead to calls for Allardyce to recall him to the senior squad for the next World Cup qualifiers, but how can he do that if he is not playing regularly for his club side?
Rashford is not the only one in the same situation as just three of the starting XI from the Under-21 side are expected to start for their respective club sides this weekend when domestic action resumes.
Southampton duo Nathan Redmond and Matt Targett have been regulars for the Saints in the Premier League this season, while Dominic Iorfa has been a starter for Wolves in the Championship.
The rest will return to their clubs playing back-up roles waiting for their chance to impress to try and become regulars in the starting XI and that will only stifle their progress.
The influx of television money has made it even harder for young homegrown players to make it in the Premier League with the likes of Bournemouth now able to compete with Manchester United in signing big-name players from abroad for that instant fix rather than trying to develop their own players.
A case in point is England Under-21 regular Nathaniel Chalobah, who has yet to make his competitive debut for Chelsea and he is set to find himself on the fringes at Stamford Bridge until January at least after failing to secure a loan move away from Chelsea in the summer transfer window.
It has even been illustrated in the senior side in recent weeks with England’s No1 keeper Joe Hart forced to go out on loan to Torino in search of regular football after being frozen out of the first-team picture at Manchester City.
While Jack Wilshere, who was left out Allardyce’s squad for the Slovakia clash, has joined Bournemouth on loan from Arsenal to try and get his career back on track and win his place in the England squad again.
Despite all the doom and gloom around the national team post-Euro 2016, the Under-21 side have shown there is cause for optimism. But, the problem lies in that until those players are playing week in, week out in the Premier League, England will continue to fall behind their rivals and under-perform at major tournaments.