The teenager will play no part in this summer’s European Championship because of injury but his club-mate will participate even though he’s struggling
As Marcus Rashford struggled around the pitch at the Gdansk Stadion a week ago, it was easy to feel sympathy for the 23-year-old.
The season finale against Villarreal was his 57th Manchester United appearance of the campaign and 46 of those were starts. That’s 4,146 minutes of football this term, added to the 3,473 minutes he played for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side last season with barely any break in between the two campaigns.
Then, take into consideration the fact he hasn’t played fully injury-free for nearly two years. There’s been a back issue, shoulder complaints and more recently a problem with his foot. That goes some way towards explaining why he wasn’t firing on all cylinders in Poland.
Anyone who has seen Rashford play in the last few weeks has watched him grimace and, at times, wince through games. In reality, he shouldn’t have started in Gdansk.
Manchester United team-mate Mason Greenwood, who announced his decision to withdraw seven hours before Gareth Southgate confirmed his final 26-strong panel, will take the summer off to recover. And some of the reasons given for Greenwood’s absence could just as easily apply to Rashford if he decided to follow suit.
“Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood has withdrawn from the provisional England Euro 2020 squad, in order to recover fully from an underlying injury that also kept him out of the Under-21 European Championship in March,” a statement read.
“Mason’s club appearances were managed carefully to maintain his availability through the intensive 2020-21 Premier League and Europa League schedules.
“But a further spell of tournament football would not be beneficial and Mason will remain at Manchester United to recuperate and prepare for pre-season training.”
It was a shame for Greenwood, who was looking forward to being involved in his first senior tournament at international level, but the teenager knows his time will come again soon.
However, his withdrawal will in one sense bring relief for Solskjaer, who has already turned his attention to next season.
Greenwood’s stats this season are similar to those of Rashford, in terms of appearances, but the latter has started 10 extra games and you can see the toll the heavier workload has taken on him, physically.
Pulling out of an England squad will never have crossed Rashford’s mind, of course.
Just after his inclusion was confirmed, the forward took to Instagram to post a picture of him representing his country at underage levelwith the accompanying caption: “My pride at pulling on the shirt is limitless.”
His determination and commitment to push on and play through the pain is commendable. However, given there is a chance he will have to undergo shoulder surgery after the tournament no matter what happens, it really worth it?
“To be honest, I just focus on the next game at hand and that’s just the way I deal with it,” Rashford said in March, when asked about the possibility of having to go under the knife before the start of next season.
“What’s needed after that, we will deal with that after. My main focus is just being available for the games.”
The decision to pull Greenwood out of the squad was made in order to protect his long-term fitness. The plan is to allow him to go on holiday before returning to United’s Carrington training base to focus on his rehabilitation.
There are no similar plans for Rashford, who remains determined to line out for England this summer.
“We haven’t seen Marcus on the grass,” Gareth Southgate said on Tuesday. “But I’ve spoken with him and he assures me he’s happy with where he’s at, so we go from there with that one.”
Solskjaer and his medical staff know when to push players to their physical limit, and when to let them rest, but they also rely on the players themselves to flag up any potential discomfort.
“He’s a tough one and he wants to play,” Solskjaer said of Rashford in April. “He wants to give his all for Man United and it’s also a responsibility for the player to tell us [if he’s not fit].”
His attitude is commendable but if he wants to go to a whole other level – he hit 21 goals in all competitions during the 2020-21 campaign – then he needs to be in peak physical condition for next season. He needs to know when to hit the off switch.
However, because of his involvement in the Euros, Rashford may end up having just a couple of weeks of holiday before having to re-join the United squad for pre-season training.
Rashford being Rashford, he will be hoping that he plays as many England games as possible this summer.
However, United’s fear will now be that he ends up playing one match too many.