Phil Neville has tipped Marcus Rashford to star at the World Cup in Russia, claiming the Manchester United forward is “made for the big stage”.
The 19-year-old scored the winner as England overcame Slovakia 2-1 on Monday (4 September) at Wembley, taking another step towards booking their ticket for next summer’s World Cup. Rashford was the guilty party as the visitors raced into a 1-0 lead within two minutes, losing possession in his own half before Stanislav Lobotka broke through to put Slovakia ahead.
However, Rashford quickly recovered from the setback, teeing up Eric Dier for the equaliser with 37 minutes gone, before curling in the winner in the winner shortly before the hour mark. The win put England within two points of automatic qualification with two games and Neville believes Rashord’s reaction showed what the teenager can handle the pressure of the big stage.
“I think we saw what Rashford is all about and his unbelievable temperament in showing that nothing really fazes him,” the former Manchester United and Everton defender told Sky Sports.
“After criticism of the performance in Malta and then what was probably Rashford’s mistake in trying to run the ball out of defence for Slovakia’s opener, he responded by showing he is made for the big stage.
“This season he’s looked like he’s got goals on his mind, having more shots than before, and he has become stronger and faster. I think we’ve got an absolute star on our hands.”
At the end of last month, Rashford came off the bench to break the deadlock as United beat Leicester City 2-0 to notch their third consecutive win of the campaign. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to return to Old Trafford later this season and Romelu Lukaku arriving from Everton for £75m earlier this summer, Rashford faces stern competition for a starting spot at United.
Jose Mourinho has started the Wythenshawe-born forward as left-winger in United’s first two Premier League games of the season, resisting calls to deploy him through the middle as a traditional striker.
Neville, however, believes Rashford can be equally as effective when selected out wide.
“People are questioning his position, whether he should be playing on the left or the right, but I don’t think it matters one bit just as long as he is playing,” he added.
“I played against Thierry Henry when he was on the left and that didn’t stop his development. What it actually does is provide a bit more freedom and takes the pressure off a bit.”
And the former England international is adamant the teenager will eventually end up playing as a number nine later in his career.
“Rashford will end up as a centre-forward but just getting minutes and experience is important,” he said.
“Playing in Europa League and FA Cup finals and for England is fantastic experience at that age.
“He’s already proven himself on the bigger stage and, as much as you don’t want to overhype young players, I think he’s perfectly poised to really step up at the World Cup.”
England have been criticised for their underwhelming performances under Gareth Southgate but are on course to reach the final stage of a World Cup finals for the sixth consecutive time since missing out on a ticket for the 1994 tournament.
While the Three Lions are unlikely to be among the favourites in Russia, Neville believes Rashford could emulate some of his illustrious predecessors, who announced themselves on the big stage at a major tournament.
“When you are talking about young players stepping up at major tournaments – Michael Owen in 1998, Wayne Rooney in 2004 – these players go to these tournaments and relish the opportunity to really announce themselves and I think Rashford can do that,” he explained. – IBTimes