Opinion: Four Reds in with Euros shout
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m usually only interested in England when the major tournaments come around.
I’ll be watching the Three Lions on Saturday, though.
The trip to Reykjavik to take on Iceland in the first game of UEFA Nations League Group A2 won’t – even in normal times, without any coronavirus restrictions – be cause for fans to pack out pubs and launch beer into the air in jubilant celebration, as we saw during the run to the semi-finals at Russia 2018.
Yet Reds across the country and further afield will be tuning in for what could be the first glimpse of 18-year-old Mason Greenwood in the national team shirt.
This time last year, Mason was also preparing for an international football match.
That was a 2021 Under-21 European Championship qualifier against Turkey, with the Young Lions overturning an early deficit to run out 3-2 winners.
Greenwood entered the fray for his debut in the second half, replacing Fulham’s Steven Sessegnon, having also made cameos off the bench in each of United’s opening four league matches.
Fast-forward a year, and the Bradford-born forward has managed a further 45 games in Red, scoring 17 goals, and now has a very real chance of becoming one of only a handful of players to make their England bow as a teenager.
The phrase ‘meteoric rise’ is often overused in football, but it’s still the best and most suitable for summarising stories like Greenwood’s.
It’s hard to believe that he’s just 18 months into his United career, so at home does he look in coping with the rigours of Premier League football.
And similar could be said for several other young Reds, who will have the changed dates for Euro 2020 – the tournament will retain that name, despite having been put back to June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – circled in their diaries.
Dean Henderson is one – the keeper signed a new contract with the Reds last week and will hope to make his international debut against Iceland (or Denmark three days later) after once again being called up.
Jordan Pickford is the current incumbent of the number one jersey, with Burnley’s Nick Pope a close challenger, yet the Everton stopper has received criticism in recent months and another good campaign for Henderson – whether at Old Trafford or out on loan again – could force Gareth Southgate’s hand for next summer’s pan-continental tournament.
Like Greenwood and Henderson, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams are still yet to receive recognition at full international level – Wan-Bissaka has appeared three times for the Under-21s, while Williams’ most senior football for England has come with the Under-20s.
Yet both players were first-choice starters for United during the cut-and-thrust end to the 2019/20 campaign, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men secured third place in the top-flight and came agonisingly close to a major European final.
Wan-Bissaka adapted to life at Old Trafford well after his summer move from Crystal Palace, showcasing the defensive talents we all knew he had while also offering plenty going forward, particularly after Christmas.
Although competition is fierce for England’s right-back position, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier all currently vying for one place, Aaron – who, lest we forget, only appeared in the top-flight for the first time as recently as February 2018 – continues to develop and it would not be a surprise to see him force his way into Southgate’s plans in nine months’ time.
Left-back Williams, who was set to join up with the Under-21s before injury, is rawer – he usurped Ashley Young in the pecking order during the autumn and expertly filled in for Luke Shaw during his two separate periods on the sidelines.
You’d argue that he could do with adding to his 36 United games before making the step up to Three Lions duty, yet it’s not gone unnoticed that Southgate failed to select a left-sided full-back in his latest squad.
Granted, Shaw and Chelsea new boy Ben Chilwell are not yet fully fit, but recent call-ups Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand were ignored and the Three Lions’ boss is known for giving youngsters a chance to step up.
Further international dates are scheduled for October, November and March, meaning Wan-Bissaka, Williams and perhaps one or two other young United names have plenty of opportunity to state their international cases.As Greenwood himself said earlier this week: "There’s a lot of talent in England right now, as you can see in the Premier League and abroad. The young lads are capable to do it, as you can see from the performances on the pitch last season. It’s good to see all the young lads coming through and pushing for places now."
And, with Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford likely to be involved next summer too, maybe the Reds can once again become the Three Lions' premier talent base.
For now, though, the spotlight is on Greenwood and Henderson in Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Good luck, lads!
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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