Soccer

‘If I have nothing else, I have that’ – Rashford celebrates community and England bond after Euro 2020 heartbreak

The Manchester United forward has paid tribute to his team-mates and his hometown support after missing from the spot at Wembley

Marcus Rashford has said that he has “felt no prouder moment” representing England at Euro 2020 and says that he “will never apologise for who I am and where I came from” after he was subjected to racist abuse once more following the Three Lions’ penalty shootout heartbreak against Italy in Sunday’s final

Gareth Southgate’s side took Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri all the way through extra-time in a 1-1 draw, only to be edged out 3-2 on spot-kicks, with Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka the three players to see their efforts fall short, sparking a slew of slurs from a vocal minority on and off social media.

The former pair were only substituted onto the field in the final minutes ahead of the shootout, with Rashford ultimately hitting the left post, with the forward now admitting that he felt off ahead of the decisive moment – but the Manchester United man has nevertheless hailed the spirit of his squad and the community around him back home as something “unbreakable”.

What has been said?

“I don’t even know where to start and I don’t even know how to put into words how I’m feeling at this exact time,” Rashford wrote. “I’ve had a difficult season, I think that’s been clear for everyone to see and I probably went into that final with a lack of confidence.

“I’ve always backed myself for a penalty but something didn’t feel quite right. During the long run-up, I was saving myself a bit of time and unfortunately the result was not what I wanted.

“I felt as though I had let my team-mates down. I felt as if I’d let everyone down. A penalty was all I’d been asked to contribute for the team. I can score penalties in my sleep, so why not that one? It’s been playing in my head over and over since I struck the ball and there’s probably not a word to quite describe how it feels.

“Final. 55 years. One penalty. History. All I can say is sorry. I wish it had [have] gone differently. Whilst I continue to say sorry, I want to shout out [to] my team-mates. This summer has been one of the best camps I’ve experienced and you’ve all played a role in that. A brotherhood has been built that is unbreakable. Your success is my success. Your failures are mine.

“I’ve grown into a sport where I expect t read things written about myself. Whether it be the colour of my skin, where I grew up or, most recently, how I decide to spend my time off the pitch I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from.

“I’ve felt no prouder moment than wearing those Three Lions on my chest and seeing my family cheer me on in a crowd of tens of thousands. I dreamt of days like this. The messages I’ve received today have been positively overwhelming and seeing the response on Withington had me on the verge of tears.

“The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up. I’m Marcus Rashford, [a] 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else, I have that.

“For all the kind messages, thank you. I’ll be back stronger. We’ll be back stronger.”

Nation rallies to Rashford amid abuse

The scenes across social media and near Rashford’s home in Withington where a mural to the player was vandalised in the aftermath of Sunday’s result have since been stemmed by an outpouring of support for the player and team-mates Sancho and Saka.

Southgate – who has insisted that the decision to bring on the former pair late with little acclimation for spot-kicks rests with him – paid tribute to the forward’s character in the immediate aftermath, while captain Harry Kane offered a sharp rebuttal to those hurling abuse among England fans earlier on Monday.

Back home, messages of goodwill and support have been posted throughout the day upon the defaced mural, while Rashford himself shared letters he had received from school children following Sunday’s game.

The bigger picture

That such abuse continues to blight the English game, even as Rashford, along with other figures such as Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings within the England squad, continue to make huge strides to combat it, remains a stain upon the country’s sporting reputation.

England’s first appearance in a major final since they won the 1966 World Cup is more than vindication for the progress made by a youthful squad on the pitch, who will look to regroup and support each other in September as they prepare for a bout of Qatar 2022 qualifiers.

The Three Lions are expected to continue with Southgate at the helm until the end of the tournament next December, while Rashford will look to impress with United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before then as the Red Devils look to break their silverware drought.

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