Watching Marcus Rashford smash the ball into the corner of the net from outside of the box for England just over a week ago served as a timely reminder of what a prodigious and exciting talent he is. After the explosive introduction to his club career, his form has become inconsistent and his impact more infrequent. As a result, it’s become too easy to under-appreciate what a special player he is, and how much potential he possesses. He is England’s and United’s most exciting homegrown plater for over a decade.
His man of the match award for England against Costa Rica was richly deserved for a devastating display, particularly in the first half. His goal was the highlight, but the most encouraging part was his all-round performance.
Playing up front, but with a licence to roam, he was able to showcase all the attributes of his game. Pace and movement, sharpness on the ball, vision, running at players, and extravagant dribbling skills (one flick in particular was reminiscent of Ronaldinho).
His attitude seems to be well balanced too: his desire and wok-rate demonstrates that he knows he still needs to develop and improve his game, yet he possesses just the right amount of arrogance; enough to give him the confidence to take on and toy with opponents. He knows he belongs on this stage.
The way he played gave plenty of ammunition for anyone with an anti-Mourinho agenda. Rashford’s pulsating performance was contrasted with his uninspired end to the season at Old Trafford, and it made for an unflattering comparison. Universal opinions wrote themselves: the shackles were off, he was allowed to express himself, playing in his favoured position. In fairness, those points have some merit. Despite occasionally excelling on the left wing, Rashford clearly is player more suited to a central role, as long as he is given freedom to roam around the pitch, occasionally drifting wide. It’s where he becomes a double threat; not allowing defenders to push too far up because he has the pace to exploit space behind, but equally, they can’t drop too deep because it allows him space in front from which he can shoot at goal, as he demonstrated so explosively for England.
Solely blaming Mourinho for Rashford’s stuttering club form though is too easy. Every player has to take responsibility for their performances too, and Rashford made more than 50 appearances last season for United. That’s still pretty remarkable for a 20 year old, and he was afforded the opportunity to dribble at opponents and attempt outrageous shots. Mourinho clearly throttles some of United’s exuberance, but forward players are still able to express themselves at the top end of the pitch.
That being said, the manager has contributed to Rashord’s uneven form. It’s the way Rashord is used (often out wide, and regularly from the bench) that causes concern, and raises legitimate doubts about how much opportunity he will get to develop as a centre-forward. His inconsistency (albeit typical for a young player) is a problem that will only be cured by continued selection in his natural position. Quite simply, that isn’t going to happen.
Lukaku is a fixture as Mourinho’s sole centre-forward. Not only does he start every match for which he is fit, he is rarely substituted either, causing Rashord’s opportunities at the top end of the pitch to be both rare and sporadic. With another attacking player likely to arrive this summer, his opportunities may be even more limited. Personally, I think he has the potential to be better and more consistent than Lukaku, and possibly one of the best in Europe, but only if he is afforded consistent selection in a central role. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon but, should he excel at the World Cup as a number nine, it will certainly Mourinho food for thought.
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