How Marcus Rashford went from boy wonder to being slated by his own club’s fans
If it wasn’t for Anthony Martial’s hamstring injury that ruled him out of Manchester United’s Europa League tie against FC Midtjylland in 2016, Marcus Rashford’s Man United career could have taken a different path altogether.
The fearless 18-year-old who stepped onto the field back then had the exuberance of youth and optimism flowing through every single vein of his body, and a return of two goals on his European debut was the perfect benchmark for what was to follow.
Destiny, however, has taken a turn for the worse of late, as the boy who was once tipped for greatness has now come to a point where circumstances have forced him to consider his United future.
In his six and a half year career in the United first-team, Rashford has experienced as many as four managerial changes and to say his role in the team has changed every time would be an understatement.
For a player fostered and nurtured by Louis van Gaal quite delicately, a volatile presence of someone like Jose Mourinho was always going to complicate matters, and it didn’t help Rashford’s cause.
One cannot really blame Mourinho to be entirely honest. It’s not that the former Chelsea boss had stopped giving him minutes. In fact, during his first season as United boss, the England international made 53 appearances across all competitions but could only muster 11 goals; four of which came in domestic cup ties.
Hence, Mourinho’s infamous “Why always Lukaku?” post-match interview rant suddenly gets some credence. When you look at the numbers, it’s even more astounding since his minutes per goal or assist ratio in the 2016-17 season was 204. This basically means he was contributing to a goal every 204 minutes.
Mourinho’s treatment was a tad bit harsh and so, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived, Rashford found a new lease of life and an arm around his shoulder - something young players in the modern era respond to better than confrontational management.
Solskajaer’s arrival, in fact, was a breath of fresh air for Man United fans the world over and Rashford in particular. In fact, it was under the Norwegian that Rashford enjoyed his best goalscoring run of 22 goals in 44 appearances.
Since the 2020-21 football season though, inconsistency has defined Rashford‘s game. Now, one might argue he has been playing through injuries, but it’s on the player himself as much as it is on the club.
It’s no secret that Solskjear overused Rashford last season and the fact that he was even called upon despite struggling with injury for 11 months is even more baffling.
Physical shortcomings, especially at such a young age, will leave a lasting impact and with no disrespect to anyone associated with the player, Rashford hasn’t been the same since returning from a shoulder surgery before the start of the ongoing season.
Add to that, an unstable dressing room to go with his highly questionable decision-making on the pitch and you can see why it’s easy for a still relatively young player to lose his way.
Now that he’s just a shadow of his former self and with a large section of United fans turning on him, Rashford is seeing the other side of football. Once the toast of Manchester, his past heroics are now being tainted by on-field mediocrity.
Criticism is now the only constant Rashford is facing and a minutes per goal or assist ratio of 181 tells you why he’s being slated to the extent that he is now pondering leaving his boyhood club.
It’s not to say that the player hasn’t got a run of games in the first team this season. In fact, since Ralf Rangnick’s first game in charge as Man United boss, Rashford has started eight games, but only returned with a solitary assist from those.
To say he’s not had enough opportunities based on the evidence is disingenuous at best. It’s quite evident that Rashford’s confidence is at its all-time low and his body language pretty much portrays it.
Bad decision-making on the pitch, unnecessary shots at goal and failing to find simple passes has what brought him to his current situation and in truth he’s only got himself to blame.
So, just demanding more minutes isn’t going to help anyone’s cause, especially when his performances on the pitch doesn’t warrant it. Instead, it’s about time he has a good, long look at the mirror since questions need to be asked about his own form.
When he first burst onto the scene, not many would have expected Rashford to be in these circumstances where he's considering his future at the club. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that his current predicament has more to do with him than the club or even any manager.
To be honest, this wasn’t supposed to be in the script. Rashford’s Manchester United journey was always tipped for greatness especially after he decided to take the vacant number 10 shirt. What comes next will decide where he goes down in Manchester United’s pantheon of greats and only Rashford can decide how things pan out.
Will he continue to act like a spoiled child throwing his toys out of the pram as soon as adversities come along or can he rediscover his edge and fire that made him the boy wonder? Only time will tell but judging by his current trajectory, Rashford’s story is turning out to be one of unfulfilled promises.
Featured photo: AFP / Ollie Scarff