Could Marcus Rashford follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United?

He emerged as a lanky, raw, and fast eighteen year old, making his debut his debut in front of the Old Trafford faithful. He blossomed into a skillful winger, with a good whip in his cross. He also had a good free kick (or two) in him. But his finishing was poor, shots erratic, passes errant and he let his teammates down with superfluous dribbles and poor decisions occasionally.

If you judged by the title – or started following Manchester United in February 2016 – you’d have thought I was describing 19-year-old Marcus Rashford. But, in fact, the opening paragraph was a description of the early days of four time Ballon d’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, at Manchester United. The similarities are striking and perhaps surprising, considering the fact that Rashford has never been given the ‘new Ronaldo’ tag.

There are, of course, a number of youngsters who’ve been dubbed the ‘new Ronaldo’, but not Rashford. It is precisely this reason the Englishman can emulate the former United ace and become a world class forward. Yes, Forward! And not a striker. Contrary to popular opinion Rashford’s skill set is more suited to a wide forward position rather than a No. 9.  His talent warrants greater involvement on the field and not just delivering goals.

He needs to be chiselled into a forward capable of scoring goals aplenty while dazzling the fans with mesmerizing dribbles. Just like – you know who – Cristiano Ronaldo. It does seem like the nineteen year old Mancunian is gearing towards that direction. In an interview with the Telegraph, he acknowledged the difficulty in adapting to a wide role, but also noted the added benefits to his game in the modern era, saying:

“You look at all the strikers in the world now, I can only think of two, three who are No.9s – Kane, Lewandowski, Suárez,”

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Knowing how difficult the game has become for traditional strikers, Rashford’s need to transform into a complete forward is more pertinent

In all fairness, for any player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo is a source of inspiration, but more so for Rahsford due to his Old Trafford connection. Of all Ronaldo’s endearing qualities, his work ethic and professionalism is perhaps what has earned him the most applause in football. On Ronaldo’s work ethic, Rio Ferdinand said:

“’He didn’t have a great shot when he came. He had a powerful shot but it went everywhere. He used to go out after training, he was embarrassed. He used to have a bag of balls and went to a pitch right over the other side so he could hide behind the trees. ‘But after a few months it was “oh he does shooting, does stepovers. He used to put weights on his feet and do these step overs.”

Watching Ronaldo now, one could easily forget the errant passes and poor finishes that frustrated his teammates from time to time. You’d even think Ronaldo was a natural finisher, but no. Ronaldo’s early flaws are similar to Rashford’s present ones, so he needn’t sulk when his shot goes wide against Slovakia or he wrongly decides to chip – instead of shoot – against Lukasz Fabianski of Swansea.

Nonetheless, Rashford is already showing signs of working on the downsides of his game. After his goal against Celta de Vigo in the Europa League semi-final, Jose Mourinho was quoted, by the Telegraph, as saying:

“He’s a 19-year-old kid but he’s a 19-year-old kid in love with football. A kid that finishes a training session and stays half an hour more every day to take free-kicks and to wait for the opportunity. His mentality – he works, he works, he works. He’s very mature and let’s forget the age because what matters is not age [but] the quality.”

No prizes for guessing which player spent time perfecting his free kicks early in his career as well.

Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Marco Asensio, Gabriel Jesus. These are just a few other youngsters that are making the headlines alongside Rashford. Of course, the comparisons are inevitable, but whether you think they are more talented than Rashford might depend on the club you support, or your nationality.

Just like Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo was (is) compared to another great, Lionel Messi. Ronaldo overcame, and still overcomes, comparisons to the Barcelona star. While Ronaldo did work hard, his grit and professionalism were motivated by the ambitions he nurtured in his lanky body as a teenager. He always wanted to be the best and made no effort to hide this from anyone. He once said:

“I’ve never tried to hide the fact that it is my intention to become the best.”

His drive and determination has brought him to break, set and reset numerous records. Being the first player to score a century of goals in the UEFA Champions league and becoming Real Madrid’s greatest ever marksman are no mean feats. Whether or not Rashford has lofty ambitions is unclear, but if he is to put the unnecessary comparisons to bed, he has to set himself apart from the rest of the talented young players in Europe.

Being ambitious is one way to go about that. Nothing spells ambitious like a teenager demanding the famous No. 7 shirt at Manchester United. Ronaldo did it, Rashford should too.  While the No. 7 shirt has had some underachievers don it in the past, Rashford has shown no sign of slowing down his growth at Old Trafford.

Taking the No. 7 shirt puts him in a very illustrious group of players, alongside David Beckham, George Best, Eric Cantona, and Ronaldo. This shouldn’t spark fear into the youngster, but rather motivate him to become a player of the ilk of those aforementioned.

Individual motivation and effort is always pivotal in a player becoming successful. However, no man is completely self-made, not even Ronaldo. Rene Meulesteen, a former coach at United, revealed in an interview:

“Don’t underestimate the importance of the manager, the father figure, but it’s also about details. That season we won the Champions League, at the beginning, Ronaldo was suspended for three games [after being sent off at Portsmouth], so I stayed behind to work with him. I knew what Ronaldo wanted. He wanted to be the best player in the world. I told him: ‘I can help you with that. There’s nothing wrong with your work ethic, it’s a wave pushing you forward.’ So I drew this diagram for him, pointing out his details as a player.”

Mourinho is a coach who is an admirer of Rashford. There were fears that he would ignore the youngster in favour of veteran Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Quite the contrary, however, as Mourinho has played Rashford even when he’s on a poor run of form. He’s also played the Englishman on the wings, to make his game more complete. Something Rashford acknowledged in the same interview with the Telegraph. Such backing from a coach is pivotal to the success of any player who wants to be the best. Rashford needs it.

These are still the early days of his career, but Marcus Rashford has shown signs of becoming a world class player. Looking up to a player like Cristiano Ronaldo would stand him in good stead. Of course, Rashford would want to have his own style, make his own name and create his own legacy. That is fine. However, with a good work ethic, right mindset, and proper guidance from his coaches, Marcus Rashford would have the world at his feet. In the words of Ed Woodward, “Watch this space!”

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