The career arc of Marcus Rashford is a hugely interesting one. A man of integrity and a leading example of how socially conscious footballers are in the modern age, it almost seems pedantic to criticise the Manchester United forward’s form. Criticism of his current career trajectory, however, may be warranted.
Indeed, while it must be noted that preparations for this season were marred both by injury (a shoulder problem he played through towards the back end of the 2020/21 campaign) and the vile racist abuse he was subjected after England’s Euro 2020 final loss, Rashford looks to be in a rut.
That, of course, might have been both expected and understandable and it’s important not to write them off as things someone should push through and leave behind. Context is cleary key, here. To look at Marcus Rashford at the moment, though, is to see a man who has been let down somewhat. Since breaking onto the scene back in 2016, he does appear to have been undercoached.
The forward’s time under Louis van Gaal – perhaps the best manager in terms of developing players he’s worked under – lasted only a few months. In the five years since, Rashford has been ‘coached’ by Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
While Mourinho did afford Marcus Rashford chances, the Portuguese isn’t the kind of manager who looks to string together complex attacking patterns. Rather, much of his focus tends to be on defensive structure and leaving his forward players to largely work things out on their own.
Solskjaer, meanwhile, was never exactly the profile of training ground manager to really raise games. A likeable figure he might have been but it’s hard to imagine many scenarios in which tactical wisdom was shared outside of vague notions about what the Norwegian himself did up front for United close to three decades ago now.
Even with England, it’s hard to see where the coaching comes in. As good a job as Gareth Southgate has done with the national team, his improvements seem to be on the collective rather than the individual.
Looking at contemporaries such as Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford could be forgiven for feeling somewhat envious. Pep Guardiola has turned the Manchester City man into a much more rounded player, while Rashford has largely been left to his own devices.
Indeed, someone like Bukayo Saka (though admittedly he has much more to prove) is seeing his game added to by Mikel Arteta.
The most obvious example of course is that of Harry Kane. A different style of player perhaps but quite where the England captain would be without Mauricio Pochettino is staggering to ponder. How Rashford could do with that sort of figure now.
The answer to the problem is not easy. Ralf Rangnick certainly has a track record of developing players but, clearly, the circus that goes along with managing United makes it harder to focus on one player in particular.
Perhaps a move away would be the best thing for his career, unless there’s a radical change in approach at Old Trafford. Gut-wrenching as it may be for a man to have played for the club for his entire career, the final 18 months of his contract with United should serve as a period of reflection for the player, despite the club reportedly being keen to discuss fresh terms.
Marcus Rashford, at his best, is a thrillingly incisive wide-forward. In many ways, it speaks to the supreme natural talent he boasts to have established himself as a regular for both club and country.
Still, we’re yet to see him at his best. Approaching his mid-20s now, it seems fair to expect him gearing up for his prime years but they seem very distant as things stand. Frankly, Rashford is too good to be in a rut.
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