Marcus Rashford was a menace against Chelsea last weekend, and after another eye-catching performance against Anderlecht last night, he ultimately won us the match to secure United’s place in the Europa League semi-final, where they will meet Celta Vigo.
His impact in his first two senior seasons for such a young player was already beyond question, but his imperiousness in these last two games – both highly significant fixtures – has crystallised his talents for all to see, and must surely cement his value as a key player for the team in the years to come. Indeed, he looks more than ready to take Zlatan’s briefly-gripped baton and step forward as United’s star striker as this seemingly unending period of post-Fergie transition hopefully draws to a close.
United’s New Spine Takes Shape
I’ve argued for Herrera as captain for the next 5-7 years; in front of him, Rashford can lead United’s line for a decade or more, starting from now. With the likes of Bailly and Pogba also still well ahead of their prime, and with De Gea hopefully set to stay in Manchester, that’s 5 players who can form the spine of our team for many seasons to come.
For all the accoutrements of the modern game, the allure of Manchester United’s traditions remains – indeed, it’s central to the club’s governing mythology; without faith in youth, our identity is lost. Sentimentality isn’t a sound basis for picking a team, but thankfully Rashford is making himself impossible not to select.
United’s Youth Legacy Remains Very Much Intact
12 months ago, echoing the concerns of many fans and pundits, one of our writers wondered “would United’s youngsters survive Mourinho’s arrival?” In some ways, he was pretty prophetic, imagining that Mourinho and Woodward might land an experienced striker – “an Ibrahimovic, perhaps.” But the conclusion that this could end with “Rashford continuing his development on the bench” has proven unfounded. LvG has to get some credit for giving Rashford his chance, whatever the circumstances were, but Mourinho has also proven the doubters wrong with his willingness to continue United’s academy-focussed traditions.
Speaking before last night’s game, Mourinho said this about the Wythenshawe-born teenager:
“Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals, even without being since September scoring a goal in the Premier League, even without that he was always a player that I trust.
“He was always a player that I play, always a player that I support because he was always coming in my direction, in the direction of what I want from a player, what I want as a Manchester United player.”
Rashford and Fosu-Mensah have racked up 1,445 minutes of game time in the Premier League this season – that’s over 1,000 more minutes than teenagers have played at any of our rivals. By comparison, at City, Guardiola has given Iheanacho, Gabriel Jesus and Aleix Garcia just 414 combined minutes so far.
Rashford: 5 Key Stats
- Rashford is United’s quickest player, with a top speed of 21mph – even faster than Tony V, who previously held that accolade.
- He’s played in 37 Premier League games so far, scoring 10 goals and providing 3 assists. When United legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy was 19 years old, he had just 6 senior goals to his name.
- In May last year, Rashford became England’s youngest ever debut goalscorer, aged 18.
- His injury history, documented on Transfermarkt, lists just one absence – due to a cold – in March this year.
- Google returns 129,000 results for the search “Marcus Rashford fearless”. That’s because he handles pressure like a boss!
What happens next?
This summer is a definite crossroads for the club when it comes to our attacking personnel. Will this be Zlatan’s only season at United? Will we buy another big name? A Griezmann, or a Lukaku, for instance? If not, should we be after another striker in the Hernandez/Solskjaer mould – someone who can offer reliable back-up, and of course tonnes of goals off the bench?! And then there’s still a big question mark around Martial too – initially our next striker protégé, before moving out to the wing, looking great for a while, then struggling to continue that form. There’s a lingering fear that any new signings could see Rashford restricted to a wider role, and that would surely be a waste.
If Mourinho does make Rashford his main man next season, what are the risks? His spotless injury record surely won’t last for a start, and there’s always the worry that, despite his incredible talent and obvious ability to handle pressure, making him our star striker at such a young age could have negative long-term implications. We’ve all watched Rooney fade in a manner that always seemed premature, and none of us would want to see Rashford’s career follow a similar route. But when you’ve got a player doing what he’s doing right now, how can you possibly leave them out?
As it stands, Rashford’ contract runs till 2020, with the option of extending by 1 year. I expect he’ll be offered an improved deal well before then. I don’t think there should ever be “assurances” that an individual will enjoy special status, but if this local lad continues on his current path, I can’t see how anyone else could expect to keep him out of the team.
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