Perfect 10: Marcus Rashford Proving To Be Valid Successor For Wayne Rooney
Background Photo By: Steve Collis, CC By 2.0
On 27 November 2018, Marcus Rashford led the line for Manchester United in their Champions League home game against BSC Young Boys. Early in the first half, he put a golden opportunity to open the scoring wide. Under-fire manager Jose Mourinho gave a disgruntled reaction, looking up to the heavens, questioning his luck. Months after receiving the coveted #10 shirt, the young striker's confidence dropped to new lows following the dreadful game.
Two months later, he’s revived his fortunes at Old Trafford. Mourinho's opinion-dividing gesture represents the turning point of his season. It sparked something in the youngster. Rare exceptions such as the red card against Phil Bardsley and the tete-a-tete with Sead Kolasinac noted, Rashford contains his emotions far better than former #10 Wayne Rooney. Make no mistake, however, the competitive fire not only burns within, it rages.
After a gloomy period under a manager constantly questioning his ability, Rashford came alive for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Having a prolific scorer for a boss no doubt helps. Under the Norwegian, the 21-year-old scored five goals in six league appearances, including four in successive matches. For Mourinho, he had netted only thrice in fourteen. Even though it began under the Portuguese, the transformation is uncanny.
It’s not like Solskjaer waved a magic wand or activated a magic cherry, automatically boosting Rashford's scoring capability. The youngster worked for a long time. After bullying from bigger defenders, poor decisions and lacklustre finishing in the final third, the England striker returned time and again to the training ground. To begin, Rashford notoriously arrives to pre-season training early to work on his striking ability.
He’s also spent hours in the gym to develop strength in his naturally lean frame. He's no Romelu Lukaku but he has the muscle to hold his own against defenders. His thought process is still a work in progress but it can't be argued that he hasn't added a lethal touch to his game.
With Solskjaer imparting precious tips on how to work better in the final third, Rashford’s slowly growing into a more composed striker. He’s spoken about how Ole-Gunnar is training him to finish chances and make better decisions. The freedom to express himself is something he rarely received from Mourinho. Under the Portuguese, mistakes were to be avoided. The Norwegian treats them as learning opportunities.
Having made 150 appearances with United, Rashford surpasses both Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo at this stage of their careers although the more appropriate comparison is with Rooney.
Like Rashford, Wazza wore other numbers before being handed the 10 shirt at the age of 21. Rooney also strove to play towards the team’s benefit, sacrificing his role many a time to United’s benefit. Different players with similar values. Rashford plays across the attacking line although he always stated he wants to lead it.
Rooney could play behind the striker or on the wing when other options were preferred in the #9 role. Rashford offers impressive ability on the flanks but is still settling into that second striker role which he plays predominantly for England.
The number welcomed both players. Wazza picked up form from the 2007/08 season when United won a European double and only became better from that point. If Rashford’s brilliance in recent months proves anything, he’s headed in a similar direction. This could spell trouble for record-signing Romelu Lukaku, now reduced to the bench. The Belgian's performance on the right flank in the FA Cup tilt with Arsenal offers a possible solution.
Still, the majestic manner in which Rashford flicked his way past his man to score from an acute angle against Brighton revealed a player revelling in supreme confidence. While his technique resembles Ronaldo, a player he grew up idolising, his work-rate and relentless demeanour mimic Rooney. Who knows? If he continues at this rate, he may be breaking his former captain's records.