Marcus Rashford pulled out of England’s Euro 2024 qualifying games this week with an injury, having played 44 games already for Manchester United this season. United fans will obviously be hoping it’s nothing serious but the fact he has taken a holiday with his girlfriend in New York this week suggests he is probably fine and will be ready for United when the international break is over. Having been relied upon so heavily this season, which has seen him claim 36 goals and assists in all competitions for us, it’s a relief that he can have some rest instead of training with and playing for England this week.

However, following England’s 2-1 win over Italy, Gareth Southgate made a little dig at our forward, when asked if he had missed the player, suggesting it’s hard to miss a player who doesn’t regularly play.

Well, the feeling was he was playing really well, but we haven’t often had him. So, in terms of a loss when you haven’t had him that often, then it’s different to being a loss. But without a doubt he was in good form. We were looking forward to seeing him.

England have had plenty of opportunities to play Rashford. The problem is, Southgate, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to want to use him. It’s no wonder that Rashford wasn’t prepared to risk his fitness for United again given how he’s been treated by the England manager in the past.

Let’s go back to 2020-21, when Rashford finished the season with 21 goals and 15 assists in all competitions, an impressive return for the 23-year-old and his best campaign to date at the time. He’d played through the pain barrier for United that season and needed surgery on his shoulder in the summer, but he delayed the procedure until after the Euros as he had been chosen to represent his country in the Euros.

Rashford was criminally overlooked by Southgate though. In the group stage, he replaced Phil Foden for the final 20 minutes, against Scotland he played 15 minutes after replacing Harry Kane, and against the Czech Republic he came on for Raheem Sterling in the 67th minute. In the round of 16 tie against Germany he was left on the bench, in the quarter-finals against Ukraine he was brought on in the 65th minute at 4-0, presumably just to give Sterling a rest, and in the semi-final against Denmark he was again an unused substitute.

Rashford’s role to the team had essentially been to ensure Southgate’s first choice players could come off before the end and avoid injury, with England always in a comfortable position.

Then came the final against Italy, which should have seen England win their first trophy since 1966 if not for Southgate’s cowardly tactics. The game couldn’t have started any better with Luke Shaw scoring in the second minute, but instead of pushing for a second, Southgate tried to defend the lead for the remaining 88 minutes, only for Leonardo Bonucci to score midway in to the second half.

Having given Rashford the message that he was not an important part of the team and that he didn’t have faith in him to make a difference, he brought our forward on for the final minute of extra-time. He had two touches of the ball before being expected to be one of Southgate’s first choice penalty takers. He had been overlooked for weeks but now he was supposed to fill a role that the likes of Jack Grealish and Sterling, who had been chosen ahead of him all tournament, weren’t able or willing to fill

We obviously all know what happened. Rashford missed the penalty, endured weeks of racist abuse online and had his mural in Withington graffitied.

When back in Manchester, Rashford announced that he would now be undergoing the surgery he had needed months earlier and would be missing the start of the following season for United.

Reflecting on his decision to delay the surgery so that he could play for England, Rashford hinted in a social media statement that maybe he had made the wrong call.

In hindsight, if I had of known I wouldn’t have played a significant role in the Euros, would I have gone? Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it…

I didn’t want to let anyone down but ultimately looking at some of my performances towards the end of the season I felt like I was.

I’m walking away from last season with 36 goal contributions, but more importantly I’m walking away with lessons learnt.

He missed our first 12 games before coming on as a sub in our defeat to Leicester, where he scored after 15 minutes on the pitch. He then started our next game against Atalanta in the Champions League and scored again, before being taken off with 20 minutes to go. His next goal came a week later in our 3-0 win over Spurs, again, after coming off the bench.

But it was largely downhill for him after that. He endured a dreadful season, finishing the campaign with just seven goals and assists in 32 appearances. His head was all over the place and he cut a frustrated figure on the pitch. His form likely wasn’t helped by the disaster that was Ralf Rangnick and the toxicity around the dressing room, but all in all it was a season to forget.

Who knows what would have happened if he’d had the surgery as soon as the 2020-21 season ended, had a bit of a pre-season and been available at the start of 2021-22. Who knows what would have happened if Southgate had used him properly or hadn’t set him up to fail in the Euros final. But it’s safe to presume he would have been in a much better headspace if he hadn’t been messed about by the England manager.

Under Erik ten Hag, it was a fresh start for everyone this season, and Rashford showed signs early on that he was ready to put the nightmares of the last campaign behind him. He scored five times and had three assists in his first eight appearances, including goals in the wins over Liverpool and Arsenal. It was probably too soon to say he was back, but he was definitely heading in the right direction and should have been doing enough to catch Southgate’s eye.

Rashford was again chosen as part of the squad and travelled to Qatar for the World Cup. He came off the bench in England’s opening group stage game against Iran and scored after 49 seconds on the pitch, but was given just 12 minutes in the next game, a 0-0 draw against USA. In the final group game he was given a rare start and scored twice in England’s 3-0 win over Wales. Bukayo Saka was the only other player in double figures at this point, with Kane yet to score. Surely Rashford had done enough to show Southgate he deserved a starting place in this side.

But it was business as usual in the matches that followed. Rashford came on in the 65th minute against Senegal in the next game, with England cruising at 3-0 up. No player had scored more goals than Rashford for England that tournament, yet in the quarter-finals against France, with England 2-1 down, he was only brought on in the 85th minute.

Rashford returned from the World Cup and hasn’t stopped scoring since. In 25 games, he’s scored 19 and assisted six. This includes goals against Barcelona, Manchester City, Arsenal, and in the victorious League Cup final against Newcastle.

A couple of months ago, Southgate tried to defend his decision to overlook Rashford, again, suggesting people were only questioning his decisions over the player’s minutes in Qatar because of his form since the World Cup.

I think people are looking at his form post tournament as much as anything. Had Marcus played and the result being like that, they’d have been saying Phil Foden should have played, or Jack Grealish, so I’ve got peace with what we did and how we went about it. I also know that’s how the narrative always works after our games.

Southgate is ignoring the fact that Rashford’s form during the tournament meant he was England’s top scorer, but he still didn’t give him a proper go, and his poor management meant the country’s 56 year wait for a trophy goes on.

Newspapers and social media have been critical of Rashford for pulling out of the squad this time but I can’t fathom how anyone thinks playing a few minutes for England in a qualifying game is worth risking his fitness for United in the remaining months of the season. Rashford would have been an absolute mug to go, and like he said after the Euros, he’s learnt his lesson. It’s unlikely that Southgate has done the same, as his stubborn remarks post World Cup suggest contemplating his mistakes isn’t a strength of his, but maybe one day he will reflect on how his England legacy may have been more fondly remembered if he had adequately valued Rashford’s contribution.