Manchester United fans have been spoilt with a wealth of talented players who have progressed from the academy and starred for the first team. Even when the players make the journey from The Cliff to Old Trafford aren’t the best in the squad, so many of them have played a key role in our success during the greatest periods in the club’s history. From Nicky Butt to Wes Brown, from John O’Shea to Darren Fletcher, plenty have written their name in to the club’s history books.
While other academy graduates have debuted since Marcus Rashford made his first appearance, he is the brightest talent the club has produced for some time and the player that we hang our hopes for the future on. He’s still only 20 yet has already made 126 appearances for United. He’s scored winners against Liverpool, City, Chelsea and Arsenal. He’s scored on his debut in every competition he’s played in. He’s from Wythenshawe, has been at the club since he was seven and he lives our dream every time he pulls on the shirt.
We can hope that Rashford follows in the footsteps of players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, contributing massively to our success and never playing for another club, while other supporters are left to envy us having another one-club man.
But since Jose Mourinho took charge there have been criticisms over Rashford not getting enough playing time. The manager went to his press conference on Friday with a list of statistics, akin to Rafa Benitez with his infamous facts meltdown in 2009, to disprove the claims that he isn’t giving the youngster enough minutes on the pitch. In his defence, Mourinho didn’t look as though he had lost the plot like the Spaniard did, rather that he’d had enough of “compulsive liars” saying things that just weren’t true. Mourinho is correct in saying that people are obsessed with him and United, whether it comes to them naturally or otherwise. Like plenty of high profile journalists have admitted, our club and our manager sell papers, so they’ll write anything they can about us. So on the back of Rashford scoring two goals in two games for England, it’s no surprise that the nonsense filling column inches about the player and manager has gone in to overdrive.
Mourinho pointed out that in his first two season at the club, Rashford has made an incredible 105 appearances for us. People can correctly assert that many of these were appearances from the bench or that he was substituted off, but for a player who was a teenager for much of this time, it’s not bad going.
The manager then worked out, or had someone else work out, how many appearances his minutes transpired as. In his first season it was 32 full games and his second season it was 30 full games. Mourinho also pointed out that Rashford has played in all five of United finals in his time at the club (he counted the Community Shield in that tally, lol) which goes some way to showing the player has Mourinho’s trust. Rashford has been included in every single match day squad, other than when he was injured or suspended, while Mourinho has been manager.
Yet if you listened to pundits like Jamie Carragher and Phil Thompson, you would think that Rashford had barely played under Mourinho and his only chance of having a successful career is to leave the club.
“I don’t see Rashford ever displacing Lukaku so long as he is there,” said Carragher. “But Lukaku was at Chelsea and he had to come away from there and go to Everton. He ended up top scorer and then got his move to Manchester United. Everton is a club where someone like a Rashford knows he can play every week.”
There’s some truth in this. Lukaku is Mourinho’s striker. Rashford may get the opportunity to lead the line in cup games but for as long as the Belgian is at the club, it’s hard to imagine that Rashford will play a central role regularly in the league.
That said, it’s hard to think of any top club that has had a 20-year-old as their star striker. Plenty of world-class strikers have had to bide their time out of position, playing wide, before getting their chance to star as they approach their peak. When Rashford is 24, Lukaku will be approaching 30 and, if the Belgian is still at United, and if Rashford fulfils his potential, he may well be United’s main forward.
“Marcus Rashford is a very talented boy,” Thompson said. “Is he going to fit in at Manchester United? I don’t think so. I don’t think there is trust from the manager to the player that he can do it on a regular basis.”
Let’s not forget that Rashford only really became a striker in the months leading up to his first team debut, starting that season with the desire to stake his claim for a starting role in the U-21 side up front.
It feels as though he’s been around forever so it’s easy to forget that he is still in the early days of his career. By the time Beckham was 21, he had played 99 games for United. Paul Scholes had 56 appearances at the same age.
Mourinho named some other young players, who are all older than Rashford, who combined haven’t made as many appearances as Rashford has over the past two seasons.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is 22, has made 11 appearances for Chelsea over the past two seasons, as well as 25 on loan to Crystal Palace. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is 21, has made 55 appearances for Everton in that time. Dominic Solanke, who is 21 and cost Liverpool £3 million in tribunal fees to Chelsea after his contract expired, made 27 appearances for Liverpool last season, five of which were as a starter.
The obvious point to make in response to this is that Rashford is better than all of these players so obviously he should get more playing time, regardless of his club. Yet these players are all tipped as young England hopefuls and they get nowhere near as many minutes as Rashford has, and their managers get nowhere near the same amount of criticism for not playing them.
At clubs who finish outside the top four, Rashford would almost certainly get more game time than he will get at United this season. But does that mean that the most sensible option for him, as Carragher claims, is to leave the club he’s always dreamed of playing for, who he still players regularly for, so he can play week in week out for a mid-table team?
Danny Welbeck left United for Arsenal when he was four years older than Rashford is now for the promise of more game time. Injuries have obviously blighted his time at the Emirates, but even when fit he isn’t guaranteed a place in the team. Again, Welbeck is an inferior player so it isn’t a fair comparison, and only the lad from Longsight can speak on whether he has regrets over his decision to leave, but the grass isn’t always greener, as Welbeck’s time at Arsenal has shown. He’s scored just 16 league goals in the four and a bit seasons he’s been there.
If Rashford was starting every week for Everton, banging in the goals, would he be happier than he is now, training alongside world class players, playing for a world class manager, in a team that is competing for trophies and playing in the Champions League? Playing for the team he’s always dreamt of playing for? Getting to dive in to the crowd after scoring goals against Liverpool? Only he can answer that but speaking as a fan, like he is, the answer seems obvious.
Rashford is a long way from the finished article, as any reasonable football fan or pundit could expect from a player his age, but he likely has another 15 years of his career ahead of him. If in a few years time he’s not United’s main striker, then it would sensible to evaluate his options away from Old Trafford. But for now, the only people who would seriously suggest that a moving from United was a sensible decision are scousers, like Carragher and Thompson. If Liverpool had a homegrown talent whose future was potentially as bright as Rashford’s, I’d want him to leave the club too.
Mourinho is right to point out how much game time the player’s had and even if we believe he should’ve had more, there’s no harm in him biding his time, putting in shifts for the national team, and waiting for his opportunity at United to come.
“The most important thing of all is that the kid is a good kid, he’s a good player, he knows what Manchester United did for him,” Mourinho said on Friday. “Starting in the academy, then Mr Van Gaal’s support, then my support and the club’s support, and the new contract, and the new shirt, and being selected for every single match since I’ve been here. He knows and that’s the most important thing.”
Like Manchester, Rashford is Red.