ANYONE doubting just how fast the football world can move forward should consider the biggest talking points of yesterday’s trimming of England’s Euro 2016 squad to 23 names by manager Roy Hodgson.
Marcus Rashford and Danny Drinkwater were so far off the international radar when the Three Lions last played a competitive match that the odds on either making the cut would surely have been up there with the likelihood of the Loch Ness Monster being found. Or Leicester City winning the Premier League.
When Hodgson’s side made it a perfect 10 in qualifying by beating Lithuania on October 12, Rashford was 17 and a talent only a select few at Old Trafford knew anything about.
Drinkwater, meanwhile, may have been in the Premier League but, even allowing for the Foxes’ unexpectedly strong start, he was yet to be regarded as anything but a decent player.
Yesterday, however, Rashford made Hodgson’s final 23 as Drinkwater missed out – much to the chagrin of supporters up and down the country.
The omission of the former Huddersfield Town and Barnsley midfielder as Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere got the nod seems harsh, not least because on form alone Drinkwater surely deserves a place.
A fully-fit Wilshere is potentially a big player for England. But he has not been fully fit for the best part of two years and who is to say the Arsenal man will not break down again this month?
Likewise Henderson, who only returned from a nasty knee injury on the final day of the Premier League season.
As for Rashford, a quite extraordinary few months will culminate in the teenager being on the plane to France.
Few had heard of the striker until Anthony Martial suffered an injury during the warm-up for the second leg of Manchester United’s Europa League tie against FC Midtyjiland in late February.
Rashford was promoted to the starting line-up and responded with two goals as the Red Devils turned the two-legged tie around. Less than 100 days later, a striker with eight goals to his name in 18 club appearances is looking forward to the Euros.
Just how much involvement Rashford will have in France remains to be seen. But, if called upon, the striker has already proved he can handle the big occasion by not only his performance in the FA Cup final but also how he took just 138 seconds to score a debut senior international goal in last Friday’s friendly win over Australia in Sunderland.
Rashford discovered he was in the squad at a team meeting that followed yesterday’s training session at Watford’s London Colney training ground. Drinkwater and Andros Townsend had been informed privately beforehand that their own Euro hopes were over; both are understood to have taken the news respectfully and in a mature manner. Former Leeds United midfielder Fabian Delph had been ruled out last week through injury.
Hodgson’s final 23 – which includes no fewer than six Yorkshire-born players – points to plenty of attacking promise. That is the good news. Less promising is a backline that hardly convinces, no matter which of the seven defenders gets the nod to start.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at centre-half. Hodgson will fly out on Monday with just three options to play at the heart of the defence and there are concerns over all of them.
Chris Smalling’s red card at Wembley in the Cup final came as a direct consequence of him being out-smarted by an opposing striker and England cannot afford a repeat in France. Gary Cahill, meanwhile, has had a season similar to that of his club Chelsea, while John Stones has also struggled at times to live up to the potential that made Jose Mourinho so determined to sign the former Barnsley man last summer.
The best strikers on the continent will surely relish being up against what ever combination Hodgson opts for, meaning Joe Hart could be in for a busy few weeks.
Elsewhere, the personnel available is much more exciting. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy will head across the Channel on the back of fine seasons in the Premier League.
Wayne Rooney, as he proved by dragging his club side back level in the Cup final last month, is still capable of being the talismanic figure who lit up Euro 2004, and Daniel Sturridge has the talent to prosper on the biggest of stages if he can avoid injuries.
Midfield also seems well served, with Delle Alli, in particular, capable of hurting opposing teams.
The squad now finalised, Hodgson has tomorrow’s friendly against Portugal to fine-tune matters before the all-important opening group game against Russia on June 11. A fascinating few weeks lay ahead, though the paucity of options in central defence make anything more than a quarter-final place seem unlikely.