For most Reds the England over United debate, has been one of the shortest many of us can engage in. There’s simply no confusion as to which team we care most about and it’s invariably the one whose fans don’t sing songs about not surrendering to terrorists.
However, whisper it quietly and make sure no one else is in the room but it is okay to want England to succeed and supporting United and the national side aren’t mutually exclusive. There I’ve said it now, I’m off to see the lawyers to get a written disclaimer that I was not of sound mind and body when I wrote such controversial nonsense.
Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in some of the Three Lions euphoria, there’s little doubt for any United fan watching England, even the most ardent, getting behind the Reds in the side will always be a lot easier than cheering, say a Jordan Henderson goal, not that we’re likely to face that dilemma any time soon.
Watching England face Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday pales in comparison to witnessing the Reds face Chelsea in the same city back in 2008, but there was one point where the emotions felt the same. Sort of. As Marcus Rashford stepped up to take England’s second penalty of the shootout there was a point where his whole career flashed before my eyes.
I envisaged Rashford missing, England crashing out, the press blaming him, the nation turning on him, burning effigies, venomous chants, death threats, a loss of confidence, a transfer to Arsenal, two goals in two seasons, a move to Everton, a small rejuvenation, another loss of form, a transfer to Sunderland, early retirement, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity then a stint on MUTV as David May’s comedy side kick. Thankfully though he scored, so now his trajectory involves nothing but the sort of unbridled glory that would make Sir Bobby Charlton sick with envy, Rashford to be a future Prime Minister, remember you heard it here first folks.
Rashford despatching his penalty with the confidence of a 20 year-old from Wythenshawe who knows he’s one of the best footballers on the planet was the highlight of not just the tournament but my entire experience of watching the World Cup. England over United? Never, but we can have both and now is surely the time to unleash Marcus for longer than just ten minutes, or a relatively meaningless game featuring the entire second string of the England squad.
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Raheem Sterling has struggled of late and has now gone 1000 days without scoring for his country as the right-wing gutter press have revelled in reminding us and while Rashford wasn’t quite at the races with his finishing against Belgium, as he showed against Costa Rica last month, he is far from struggling. The same cannot be said for Sterling who seems to be suffering from trying to too hard to make something happen.
England’s win over Colombia has the nation buzzing with talk of an easy route to the final, via Sweden and one of Russia or Croatia, but Gareth Southgate knows the Swedes aren’t turnips, if the Three Lions are to prevail, they need to be at the very top of their game and that means playing your best, most confident players. Seeing the way Sterling has struggled – he was subbed against Colombia- and Rashford despatched his penalty, there’s little doubt United’s youngster is ready to step up and deserves his chance against more than just a second string Belgium side.
Who knows, seeing Rashford fire England into the semis may just make even the less patriotic United fans get behind the national side for a change, after all of the nation can embrace Jesse Lingard the same way Reds do, anything is possible.