It speaks volumes about the attacking talent manager Gareth Southgate has that the 23-year-old did not make the starting XI for Sunday’s 1-0 win over Croatia, though at least he got onto the field, unlike unused substitute Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho, who did not make the bench.
Remarkably, it is a role the forward has had to get very used to in his three major tournaments.
Rashford says being overlooked has not spurred him on in training since, because his attitude is always to give his maximum despite constantly nursing injuries that might benefit from a few games off. When it comes to the tournament, Rashford insists England do not fear anyone but that is not the same as disregarding opponents. Scotland will be outsiders for tomorrow’s second group game at Wembley, but there is no danger of Rashford treating them as a soft touch.
“We’re not scared of any team we come up against,” he says now all 24 countries have played. “We’re definitely working hard and in football that’s just the baseline, you have to work hard and believe in yourself and your team-mates. If you don’t do that you may as well forget about winning.
“Are there teams that have played well and impressed me? Yeah, definitely. There’s been some strong performances that make you sit back and enjoy the game of football.
“If we’re to win the tournament we’re going to have to play against the best teams. We want to look forward to them games, we don’t want to be scared of playing against these teams.
“Especially since Russia [where England reached the 2018 World Cup semi-final] we’ve exposed ourselves to more of these big games playing against the biggest nations and some of the best players in the world and we’ve managed to deal with it and win a lot more of those games.
“Before the World Cup we were struggling to get results against the big teams. We’d played well some games but they’d just edge us, maybe beat us 2-1 or 1-0. After the World Cup we’ve managed to get some better results and play some of our best football.”
There is a case to say England might be better off finishing second in their group than winning it and setting up a game quite possibly against the world (France) or European (Portugal) champions.
“We want to win every game,” insists Rashford. “We’re not thinking about coming second to get an easier run.
“We want to approach every game with the mentality that we’re going to win. That’s always been the mentality of the staff and the players here.”
As for tomorrow’s opponents, beaten 2-0 by the Czech Republic in their opening game, he says: “You can’t overlook this Scotland team because they’ve got many different ways of scoring goals. We approach the game with the right mentality, the mentality we approach every other game [with], to respect the opponents’ qualities and find ways to break them down and hurt them.”
Showing the right mentality is what Rashford has been doing in training this week. Southgate preferred Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling in the “three-quarter line” of Sunday’s 4-2-3-1 and the most Rashford-like of them, Sterling, scored the only goal.
“Every single player wants to play but from the tournaments I’ve been to in the past, from doing really well in Russia, it’s clear you need everyone to go a long distance in a tournament so whether you’re on the bench or you’re starting you have to be ready to do your best,” says Rashford, whose only start in three major tournaments came in a 2018 dead rubber against Belgium.
“You can’t say you’re not upset or annoyed because I think as a player that’s natural, you want to play every game, but it’s about your reaction. If you start putting your head down, sulking and not training properly it doesn’t have a good effect on the team.”
Asked if it had spurred him to up his game in training since, Rashford replies: “I’ve been doing that since I’ve come here. There’s only 11 players that can start the game so when you’ve got a squad of 26 talented players, people are going to be left out.
“It’s about when you do come on doing the right things and trying to be professional. It’s something I’ve always tried to do.”
There is a reason why when Rashford left the Wembley pitch on Sunday, he was wearing the captain’s armband.