Jermain Defoe recently received a call-up to the England squad for the first time since 2013, and deservingly so as, since the beginning of last season, he has scored 29 goals in 61 games for a struggling Sunderland. His inclusion was well received and after scoring against Lithuania with just his fourth touch of the game, he showed the country why he’s one of the most consistent goal scorers in recent Premier League memory. However, Defoe’s inclusion meant one young striker’s development was stifled as Marcus Rashford missed out on an invaluable 90 minutes of competitive international action. Therefore, was Gareth Southgate wrong to play Jermain Defoe?
Yes. There is no doubt Defoe deserved his call up with his on field and off field actions making him the most talked about player in the North East of England. However, as Defoe bagged his goal against Lithuania, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford watched on from the subs bench. Rashford, who scored on his England debut against Australia last-May, was arguably the only bright-spark of England’s embarrassing defeat to Iceland in France last summer, despite coming on in the 86th minute. So why, considering Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll all missed out on inclusion in the squad, was Rashford on the bench?
Imagine how valuable 90 minutes of action in a World Cup Qualifier could be for a promising 19 year old. He would learn to lead the line for his national side and play in a competitive fixture where a victory is expected by all English fans. Of course that pressure is incomparable to a major tournament, but against Lithuania, Rashford would be expected to score goals for his country to win a game, something that is required in any major tournament from a striker. He’s shown in games for club and country that he is a goalscorer and can score important goals (scoring the winner for Manchester United against Hull City late in the game a particular example) and against a Lithuanian defence, Rashford should get a fair amount of opportunities to increase his tally. Players such as Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling supplying Rashford would also give him the required amount of chances to score. All of this would benefit the striker in the long-term.
Then, we consider what England’s strike-force going into the next decade may look like. Defoe won’t be there, nor will Rooney. Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford look the most likely to be England’s front line in Euro 2020 and that is an exciting prospect. Therefore, it’s these types of games against Lithuania where Rashford should be trusted to lead the England line as, in just three or four years time, that will probably be his job. Lithuania provided the best possible opportunity for Rashford to play and score goals in front of 70,000 fans and win games for his country, an absolutely invaluable experience.
Let’s say then that Gareth Southgate was always going to play Jermain Defoe against Lithuania and Jamie Vardy against Germany. Why then was Rashford even called up? Surely 90 minutes at least for the Under 21 squad is better for his development, rather than substitute appearances in a friendly and a World Cup Qualifier against Lithuania. Under 21 games against Denmark and Germany in preparation for the upcoming Under 21’s European Championship would allow Rashford to play alongside fellow youngsters and his first team experience, albeit very limited, would also be invaluable to his team mates for the future as they too will become the players we require in five of six years time.
All of this seems to highlight the apparent wastage of Marcus Rashford during this international break. Despite some of the positives coming out of the break for England and Southgate, Marcus Rashford and his potential was not nurtured as it should have been and it would be a major waste to see Rashford not meet his sky-high potential.