Marcus Rashford has a chance to “knock someone off their perch” after Roy Hodgson included the uncapped 18-year-old in an expanded 26-man squad for Euro 2016.
Rashford, who has never even played for the under-21s, was the most eyecatching name announced by Hodgson at Wembley yesterday, having only made his Manchester United debut in February.
But seven goals in 16 appearances and an energetic, fearless approach have made him the chief beneficiary of Danny Welbeck’s injury woe.
There is some irony in the fact that his inclusion comes ahead of Theo Walcott, who was handed a shock call-up at 17 for the 2006 World Cup having yet to feature for the Arsenal first team.
Andros Townsend was also preferred after his renaissance at Newcastle, while Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson were present after returning to fitness just in time.
With Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy all ahead of him in the pecking order, Rashford is the likeliest forward to miss the cut, but Hodgson insists that is not written in stone.
Rashford may get just one opportunity – against Australia on 27 May – with the FA Cup final ruling him out of the Turkey friendly and Hodgson keen to go into the Wembley send-off against Portugal with his final 23, but he has already shown an aptitude for making a big impression in a small time-frame.
“He’s one of the contenders, of course. There’s no reason, if he does exceptionally well, why he can’t knock someone off their perch,” said Hodgson.
“Marcus taking on that important role of centre-forward at Manchester United at quite a difficult period of time in the year hasn’t gone unnoticed from our side. We’re keen to see what he can do.In the week that we work with him and possibly a game or part of a game that he plays, we might start thinking ‘we really need this fella, he is actually better than some of the others we were contemplating ahead of him certainly a few months ago’.
“Some people come from nowhere a bit quicker than others and his has been more akin to a Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling rise.”
While that will be music to Rashford’s ears, it will clearly take something special to disrupt the established order.
Fitness allowing, Rooney, Kane and Vardy appear untouchable, leaving Liverpool’s Sturridge the most vulnerable to a late change of plan.
But Hodgson also has plenty of attack-minded players in midfield, with Sterling, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana all happy to operate further forward.
“You’ll see that the competition for places is quite enormous,” said Hodgson.
“I am pretty certain that when he looks down that list he will be thinking ‘this won’t be easy for me to break in’ and neither should it be.
“I must make it clear that it will be harder than some people expect because the people who’ve played over the past two years have done a very good job for us.”
The majority of the squad was as expected, Phil Jagielka the odd man out in defence as Hodgson opted for three specialist centre-backs covered by the versatile Eric Dier.
Two of the 11 midfielders will be pruned after the Australia match at the Stadium of Light, pending the physical condition of Wilshere and Henderson, who are short on minutes but rated highly enough to warrant special attention.
Rooney retains his place as captain, most capped player and record goalscorer – his tally of 51 compares to just 26 among the rest of the squad – but has neither sought nor received any reassurance about his role in the team.
Kane and Vardy have outshone him comfortably this season, leaving a selection poser that could run all the way to France.
“I don’t have to decide that yet,” offered Hodgson. “Wayne Rooney has done a fantastic job for England – 109 games, 51 goals… that’s one terrific record and there aren’t many players in Europe, at international level, who reach that level of success.
“He’s been very important to us in the qualifiers and we’re very grateful for the goals he’s scored and the work he’s done for us. But in terms of selecting a team for Russia, I’ve got three matches before that. Who knows what will happen in between? To my knowledge he isn’t saying ‘I am demanding I play in the opening game’. He’s not demanding that he plays in this position in the opening game, and I’m under no pressure whatsoever to select him in the opening game unless I feel he’s the best man for the job.”
Hodgson also confirmed he had spoken to Walcott, Jagielka and Michael Carrick to break the bad news prior to his media conference.
“I’ve spoken to all three of those players, they were tough decisions and players I respect and admire,” he said. “But you have to make a decision, there’s only 23 places.”