Forget Man Utd's Marcus Rashford - £45m Chelsea star must make England's Euro 2024 squad instead

Cole Palmer continues to impress for Chelsea following another Man of the Match display in the Carabao Cup in midweek.
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Meritocracy. What is it? Where does it come from? How does it taste? Us English have a - how to put this - difficult relationship with the meritocratic. This splintered country with its food banks and banker bonuses, its nepo babies and mushrooming child poverty, its coronations while people sleep out on the street, has become quite adept at turning a blind eye to the unjust and the entrenched in most walks of life.

And yet, when it comes to football, equality of opportunity has become an obsessive demand among the many. People look at the England national team, and they froth at the mouth, rabid in their expectation that good work and hard graft are rewarded accordingly. In that regard, Gareth Southgate has been held to a higher standard than any of our recent string of doomed Prime Ministerial sock puppets. Maybe if Gareth had gone to Eton, nobody would bat an eyelid at him starting Harry Maguire in the heart of defence.

Anyways, the point is that when Euro 2024 begins to roll menacingly over the horizon, you can guarantee that the one word we will hear bandied about all over the place - morning, noon, and night, and then again from dusk until dawn - will be 'meritocracy'.

And rightly so, by the way. The England squad should be chosen, at least partially, based on form and recent output, rather than reputations and lingering faith garnered from emotional near misses that, in some cases, happened more than half a decade ago. It is for that exact reason, at the present moment in time, Cole Palmer deserves a place in Southgate's plans and Marcus Rashford probably does not.

Before we go any further, this is no concentrated attack on Rashford who is, by any metric, both a fine footballer and a wonderful human being. But this season he has struggled for consistency, and that has been reflected in a return of just four Premier League goals in 20 outings. Even his pair of assists in that time do little to soften the blow of a wholly underwhelming campaign. From his attacking contributions to his defensive work rate to his fundamental decision making in key moments, the 26-year-old looks like a husk of his former self.

Ordinarily, that might still have been enough to sneak his way into Southgate's travelling contingent, but perhaps not when the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins, Jarrod Bowen, and even an off-kilter Bukayo Saka are eclipsing him. And then there is Palmer.

Eyebrows were raised over the summer when Manchester City sanctioned the attacker's £45 million transfer to Chelsea, and his performances since have justified that scepticism. In 24 appearances for his new club he has registered 11 goals and seven assists across all competitions, and continues to be a rare beacon of pride in a team that stumbles along like a silent movie drunk on a treadmill.

Overtly gifted with the ball at his feet, there is a refreshing directness to Palmer's game that Rashford himself once embodied so readily. The manner in which drives and bamboozles instantly puts defenders ill at ease, and that, combined with a savvy eye for goal and a pleasing selflessness makes him an intriguing attacking prospect. Nobody in Chelsea's squad this season, for instance, has registered more key passes per 90 minutes, or more shots per game.

And then there is the matter of his versatility. Ostensibly a winger, Palmer is just as comfortable in the number 10 role, and has even led the line to decent effect for this blunted Chelsea side on occasion this season. It is not hard to see how that could be an added lure for an international manager with a restricted number of spots available to him heading into a major tournament.

Of course, the 21-year-old has already made his senior England debut, and the chances are that he will be given more opportunities to add to his two caps between now and the beginning of this summer's festivities in Germany. If he can make good on those, and continue to thrive at club level, there is no reason why he shouldn't be in Southgate's squad - even if it comes at the expense of an established star.