Equal time: Marcus Rashford must specialise or risk wasting talent
When Jose Mourinho walked through Carrington on his first day, he knew he had to deliver on two key fronts. Returning Manchester United to the top headed the list, scrawled in bold, block caps. But continuing to trial and promote academy players hovered just below. It was an equally important issue for fans and pundits alike.
While the Portuguese failed to gain major silverware [the Europa League and domestic cups don't qualify in my view] he hasn't denied academy products their chance. Fans always want to see greater opportunities afforded to youngsters. Mourinho's been fair with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, too.
Whereas Lingard thrives under Mourinho, Rashford’s development stutters. Had you asked Old Trafford denizens who was more likely to evolve into a regular player under Mourinho, the unanimous answer would've been Rashford. While that's testament to the diminutive attacker’s perseverance, it also reflects the inertia gripping Rashford.
Technically, if not emotionally, Rashford matures under Mourinho, but his abilities should be accelerating at a much faster rate.
Some argue Rashford lacks game time. He isn't afforded the same consistent platform his best mate enjoys. There's good reason. Lingard ironed out the inconsistencies in his game. He frequently delivers for Mourinho, thereby earning the manager’s trust. Rashford hasn't. Ergo, he doesn't receive the same faith.
A more persuasive argument declares Rashford won't realise his full potential without carving out a defined role. Under Mourinho, he flirts with several positions across the front-line, playing wide-left, wide-right, no.10 and centre-forward. Some believe education in all four attacking assignments enriches his understanding of the game. This is naive. Too many responsibilities stagnate Rashford’s evolution. Eden Hazard's the one Premier League player capable of filling all four roles; the disparity between the two isn't so much a crack as a gulf.
Rashford must find one position. He can then sound out its nuances and hone his craft. It won't be the one he craves, though. Rarely is Alan Shearer correct, but he was in saying the youngster won't lead United's line. The 20-year-old cannot compete with Romelu Lukaku’s dominance and finishing prowess. The job requires strength to hold up play in Mourinho's scheme and, lacking that, guile. Should the Belgian be injured, Mourinho's far more apt to trust Alexis Sanchez in the box.
You can discuss the relative merits of that decision long into the night. Regardless, Rashford will only assume the role in critical matches when all other options are exhausted.
As well, Mourinho fielding a front two is nearly as likely as Jeremy Corbyn avoiding scandal for a week, so put it out of your head.
Rashford possesses neither the vision nor craft to succeed as United's no.10. Further, it pulls the plug on his electric pace.
The one viable option for the Englishman is on the flanks. Mourinho will persist with Sanchez on the left-wing until Jeremy Corbyn becomes pure as the driven snow, Right wing is Rashford's one best chance. In Mourinho's preferred 4-3-3, he must take the spot from, you guessed it, Lingard.
For all the tenacity and punch Lingard provides, Rashford’s raw speed and technical dexterity holds the greater potential. It's a case of his mentality matching his athletic ability.
The manager decides who plays where, but if Rashford's serious about his development he must approach Mourinho to tell him he wishes to fight for the right wing role. This is Rashford's lone escape from inertia's clutch, the only path that avoids wasting his startling talents.