From virtual unknown to Euro 2016 contender: The rise of Marcus Rashford

HD Marcus Rashford Manchester United FA Cup 13042016
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The Manchester United teenager was named in the 26-man England squad for this summer's European Championships and could emerge as one of the stars of the tournament

Until late February he was an unknown to anyone outside of Manchester United’s Carrington training complex. Three months on, Marcus Who? has become Marcus Rashford, England squad member and potential Euro 2016 superstar.

The 18-year-old striker stepped in at the last minute to replace Anthony Martial after the Frenchman’s muscle strain in the warm-up ahead of United’s Europa League return clash with Danish minnows FC Midtjylland in February. He proceeded to turn around the tie with two goals on his senior debut.

Less than three days later he was at it again, bagging two more as Arsenal were dispatched at Old Trafford in the Premier League. He has since featured as a starter in 16 of United’s last 17 fixtures, missing only the trip to Norwich for which he was rested, and on Monday was announced among Roy Hodgson’s 26-man England selection for the Euro warm-up clashes with Turkey, Australia and Portugal.

Rashford’s rise has been mesmeric. He may not have continued to score at the healthy rate which made him an overnight star in the spring, but his movement, instinct and thirst for the big occasion have belied his tender years.

Almost as soon as he had rattled in those four goals in two matches to announce himself to the world, the gossip was that he could become an England contender ahead of the Euros. Many presumed that United boss Louis van Gaal would take a similar stance to the one regularly demonstrated by Sir Alex Ferguson during his management career, belittling such talk and doing everything possible to protect his player from tittle-tattle.

Van Gaal, though, insisted that his young prodigy was ready if called upon, telling the media after the defeat of Arsenal: “It is never too early. Age is not important, it is the quality.”

And Hodgson admitted before choosing his squad for the friendly clashes with Germany and Netherlands in March that he wasn’t discounting Rashford. “I would neither rule him in or rule him out, I just hope he can do well,” said the England boss.

“I have been watching Rashford for two years, so I have known about him for a long time. He is in our system.”

Now the youngster is very much in the system. One of 26 names announced by Hodgson on Monday, he could well be among the 23 to board the plane to France ahead of Group B fixtures against Russia, Wales and Slovakia in June.

“We have had good feedback from Manchester United on Rashford as a person and a player,” Hodgson added at Wembley on Monday. “Marcus has done brilliantly and is a player who, if he continues to develop and take his chances, there is no reason why he can't become a regular member of the England team. I prefer to have somebody like him knocking on the door rather than bringing back someone who might not make the 23 and we already know what they can do.”

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That would explain the exclusion of in-form Sunderland striker Jermaine Defoe in favour of Rashford, and also signals an international future in the making for a boy who has played like a man over the past three months.

Hodgson did add a word of warning, though, which suggested the Euros might yet still come too soon for the United star, explaining: "He is one of the contenders. Competition for a place is quite strong, although I might only get one week to judge that ahead of the FA Cup final. There's no reason if he does particularly well why he couldn't knock someone off their perch, but that will be very hard as there are players who have done very well for two years.”

Yet there is every chance that a youngster whose name had never been uttered by the large majority of English football fans until just a few months ago might well be the player who has everyone talking in France this summer.