It is almost a year to the day since a complete unknown took to Rochdale’s Spotland pitch under the floodlights for a fleeting 20 minute cameo appearance for Manchester United in the Lancashire Senior Cup. For most youth players at Manchester United they will be embarking on a journey along a conveyor belt on their way to obscurity – just another youngster who was never going to make the cut into the prestigious senior squad. The man in question, however, was Marcus Rashford. The same man who scored an impressive hat-trick in last week’s 6-1 thumping of Norway’s under-21s.
This emphatic scoreline comes only days after England’s senior squad, yet again, struggled to break down a relatively poor Slovakian side, despite a man advantage, purely down to a severe lack of attacking threat and creative impetus – two ingredients that clearly Rashford has in abundance. Which makes you question why the young man has been omitted from both Jose Mourinho’s and Sam Allardyce’s respective set-ups.
Roy Hodgson took a chance on him during Euro 2016, and if anything he looked to be the Three Lions’ most substantial attacking threat – but I suppose that isn’t saying much. Now, regardless of his success in the early stages of his career, and being an exciting prospect with clear goalscoring prowess and attacking threat, I firmly believe his feet should be held on the ground for the time being.
The man who has the most significant effect on which path Rashford finds himself on in the coming years, and who could, to some extent, make or break his entire career, is Jose Mourinho. Clearly, stocks in Rashford have spiralled even higher in the aftermath of last Tuesday’s superb hat-trick, giving the Portuguese head coach (and Allardyce for that matter) even more to think about. If he wasn’t already in their minds, he’s certainly at the forefront of any plans now.
However, without consistent minutes at Manchester United, surely a position in the England squad is untenable for the youngster, especially with the likes of Jermaine Defoe making a strong start to the domestic season. This is where Mourinho has a decision to make.
Despite an illustrious managerial career one potential downfall the media have identified is his lack of youth development, the complete opposite of Sir Alex Ferguson, who guided the ‘Class of ’92’ to cement themselves as legends at Old Trafford. Even Louis Van Gaal offered many – Rashford included – the opportunity to break into the senior team.
As one of the most celebrated managers of all time, even if he is a controversial character, Mourinho must surely recognise he has a player on his hands. Nonetheless, as we witnessed during his time at Stamford Bridge, the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku have simply been discarded by him in the past, and since gone on to do bigger and better things. In addition, only fourteen of the youth players Mourinho has claimed to developed have made more the five appearances under him.
Clearly Rashford should be handled with care if his potential is to shine through. He needs game time at the highest level, for sure. However, as good as he is for an 18-year-old, opportunities are going to be few and far between. After all, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a major marquee signing this transfer window – aren’t going to be easy to overtake in the pecking order. However, what they do offer Rashford is the opportunity to learn vital footballing lessons, which could help promote his development.
Regardless of whether he gives Rashford consistent minutes or not, Mourinho is in a win-win situation, because Rashford has so much time to mature as a player, and already oozes talent. The responsibility is on the older players to justify their inclusion ahead of him. When the opportunities do come around, as a youngster under no pressure, he makes the most of them – as illustrated by his injury time winner against Hull.
The same can be said about Sam Allardyce on the international scene. The England head coach, himself, has been under fire for not taking a risk with Rashford and freshening the national team up, but this, surely, would have been too much of a risk for his first game in charge?
Regardless of whether Rashford is in Allardyce’s current plans or not, no harm has been done omitting him from the squad. Clearly his game is developing nicely at under-21 level, and making Rashford a regular fixture in the senior squad too early could see him lose momentum in his path to becoming a world class player – see Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as examples of this. After all Rashford will still only be 20 years of age when Russia 2018 comes around.