Roy Hodgson knows “the whole of the English football world” will be watching Marcus Rashford’s international debut with bated breath.
The England boss will hand the precocious striker his bow against Australia at the Stadium of Light on Friday, at the tender age of 18 and just 92 days after he first appeared for Manchester United.
Daniel Sturridge’s calf strain means Rashford is in line for a starting spot and although Hodgson did his best to downplay early hype around the teenager, he now accepts that the spotlight cannot be avoided.
He needs to see Rashford in action to decide whether he should make the final 23-man squad for Euro 2016 and accepts the baggage that comes with it.
“I worked hard in the beginning when, after one or two games, people were saying ‘a new genius is born’ and ‘Hodgson must take him to France’ to try and play down those expectations and demands,” said Hodgson.
“(I wanted) at least to give him the time to keep it up over two or three months and that’s what he’s done.
“I think he’s got very interesting qualities. Whether he can produce them at international level at such a young age we’ll find out.
“It is a big game for him because I, my coaching staff, the rest of the players, he himself, the whole of the English football world will be looking to say ‘we all think this lad’s got something special…can he show it to us once again?’.
“We’ll be giving him every chance to do so and he’ll get so much help, so much support and so much encouragement from the rest of the team.”
That the Socceroos provide the opposition for Rashford’s big audition is a rare coincidence.
They last played England in 2003, at Upton Park, where a 17-year-old striker by the name of Wayne Rooney wore the Three Lions shirt for the first time.
Now captain, Rooney is mentor rather than rookie, and an increasingly important lieutenant for Hodgson when he introduces young talent.
“I wasn’t in the country when Wayne was making his rise to fame. I don’t really have that detailed knowledge of him being a young player and how he burst on the scene,” said Hodgson.
“But we are fortunate that in Wayne Rooney we have someone who, not only with Rashford, happens to be from Manchester United, but with all the players we’ve brought in, is very generous with his time, with giving them his experience.”
Rashford may have been an unexpected pick for the original squad, but his chances of being involved in France seemingly improved with the news that fellow striker Sturridge is struggling with a calf problem.
The Liverpool forward has suffered a litany of injuries in the past two seasons and must be considered a gamble in a tournament setting, particularly if he is unable to take part in Sunderland.
“I certainly can’t deny the fact that we are talking about a player who’s had a really unfortunate record over the past couple of years, but he’s worked very hard,” said Hodgson of Sturridge.
“It’s particularly unfortunate he’s picked up this calf strain.
“It’s not just as simple as physical fitness either, there’s a lot of other factors to take into consideration: you need a certain mentality to get through tournaments and a certain ability to be a member of the team.
“I think he (Sturridge) has that, yes, or I wouldn’t have picked him in the first place.”
Dean Ashton, the one-cap striker whose career was cut short by injury, warned on Wednesday that the England side of eight years ago was a tough one to integrate with.
He told talkSPORT of cliques and club divides, but Hodgson and midfielder Jordan Henderson insisted that bore no resemblance to the current dressing room.
“It won’t be a problem I can assure you,” said Henderson.
“The type of people, not only as players but also off the field, that we’ve got here are first-class really. Everybody is welcome, especially Marcus.
“We all get along really well. We have a really good team atmosphere and a really good togetherness.
“Everyone on the pitch will want to be vocal helping each other out, helping the person next to you. I’ll try my very best, I’m playing, to help him as much as I can.”