Should Marcus Rashford pull a Paul Pogba?
Image: Andre Zahn CC BY-SA 2.0
In 2015/16, Manchester United came off yet another disappointing transfer window. They ‘panic bought’ a young Frenchman named Anthony Martial. Then 19, the kid stunned the world when he dribbled through half the Liverpool team to score on his debut. Subsequently, the onus lay on the teenager's shoulders to be United's creative spark. Unfortunately, Martial picked up an important injury before United's pivotal Europa League match against FC Midtjylland.
United's strike force was depleted. With no viable options, manager Louis Van Gaal turned to the academy where a promising young talent named Marcus Rashford waited. A year younger than Martial, Rashford similarly announced himself to the world in emphatic fashion. He scored two goals on the night, following that up with a further two goals against big boys Arsenal in his Premier League debut. Again, as with Martial, expectations rose astronomically. Too many expected Rashford to become United's next great homegrown wonder boy. Instead, his development has slowed more than the Ring Road at rush hour.
Under Van Gaal, Rashford was prodigious, churning out top performances like a seasoned veteran. When United dismissed their Dutch manager, immediately after winning the FA Cup, they appointed Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho's a serial winner notorious for his reluctance to promote young talent from within his clubs. Never remaining with a team for more than three years, the future wasn't his priority. He lives for the now. To keep supporters on his side, he'll pick the most talented young player, use him sparingly and ignore the rest. Said player needn't even come from the academy. At Inter, Diego Milito served. At Real Madrid, it was Raphael Varane. When he came to United, a side especially proud of its academy, he adopted Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and more recently Scott McTominay. All had bright moments only to fade into the background.
Rashford was heavily relied upon in Mourinho's first season, making 53 appearances across all competitions. Following that campaign, he became an almost bit-part player. Mourinho often brags about Rashford being in every matchday squad since he took charge. The 55-year-old's most staunch defence is the youngster's made more appearances than any outfield player during his tenure. Quantity over quality.
Mourinho fails to mention by strategic omission that Rashford invariably comes off the bench. Like a growing child, young talents must play their fill to develop. A constantly rationed diet of substitute appearances only stunts their growth.
At the moment, Rashford's started three consecutive matches for United. He assisted both goals in the less than flattering draw with Crystal Palace, prompting Mourinho to call him one of his few “mad dogs”. The comment will surely flatter Rashford. On the other hand, he must realise that if Alexis Sanchez was fit and Romelu Lukaku bang on form, Rashford would still be on the leash in the players' box.
Old Trafford may not want to lose their pride and joy but they may have to let Rashford go, even if just for the time being. Otherwise, his immense potential will remain untapped.
Eight years ago, a move to Juventus was perfect for Paul Pogba, With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic now on the Old lady's payroll, it's not the destination for Rashford. Having escaped the frying pan...
Bayern Munich is a different story. The German league's a hub for young English players these days. Look at Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson. Dortmund top the table ahead of the six-time defending Bundesliga champions on the power of Lucien Favre's lightning-quick attack force.
With Sancho, Marco Reuss and Pablo Alcacer lighting it up while Mario Gotze, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Christian Pulisic push them for minutes, die Roten are feeling the pressure. They couldn't keep up with the Yellow and Black in early November, dominating early before running out of fuel. Thirty-five-year-old Franck Ribery began resorting to cheap fouls to contain young Sancho. Thirty-four-year-old Arjen Robben wasn't in the squad, nursing yet another injury. Thomas Muller, only 29, had to be substituted late on. He was gassed and cramping. Injecting Rashford's pace and skill into that lineup can put Bayern back on the front foot in the new, aerodynamic Bundesliga.
Rashford has given no indication he wants to leave the Theater of Dreams. Why would he? It's his boyhood club and best mate Lingard is there to keep him company. Sooner rather than later, however, he must wake to face reality. Moving on may be best for him, lest the dream become a nightmare.