There is a school of thought among Manchester United fans that Marcus Rashford may never fulfill his true potential at the club, and is in fact already a disappointment.
Funny how some players can be written off despite being in the infant stages of their careers.
Who can forget that magical European night (magical for Rashford, not United, it was the Europa League after all). February 25, 2016, an 18-year-old Rashford exploded onto the scene, coming off the bench and scoring two goals in a 5-1 win against Denmark’s FC Midtjylland.
It made him United’s youngest ever scorer in European competition, beating a record previously held by George Best. Not bad for a player who only made the squad following an injury to Anthony Martial in the warm-up.
He went on to score two more goals and supply the assist for the other in the Premier League three days later as Arsenal were beaten 3-2 at Old Trafford.
The new darling of the Stretford End would finish the 2015/16 campaign with an impressive eight goals in 18 outings.
Since then, however, his expected meteoric rise has been grounded. Perhaps by a mixture of Jose Mourinho’s negative tactics and perceived lack of trust in youth.
If you sit on the other side of the fence, though, you’ll say he’s just a flash in the pan, not a United player, and ultimately will amount to nothing.
Some United fans have already washed their hands of him. One Twitter user last week described him as “consistently United’s worst player, offers nothing and had one great game since his debut season”.
Some see him as the next Danny Welbeck, who left United in search of establishing himself, yet is arguably no better off four years later.
In 142 United games from 2008-14, Welbeck scored 29 goals, at a rate of 0.2 goals per game. At Arsenal, in 124 games he has notched 32 goals, at a slightly higher rate of 0.25.
As much promise as Longsight-born Welbeck showed in his early years, he was never able to establish himself or convince Sir Alex Ferguson of his worth. He was never able to oust the likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Robin van Persie from the starting XI.
Rightly so, too. As has been proven since his move to the Gunners, the 27-year-old has failed to fully push on and fulfil his promise, which was once deemed so immense.
A player who went from being a frustrated back-up at United has gone on to become, well, a frustrated back-up to Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the Emirates Stadium.
Rashford is certainly no Welbeck – which is meant as a compliment. There is, however, a pressing need for him to climb to the next level. His career statistics read: 34 games, 134 goals. Welbeck’s output is 69 from 302.
His United goals per game ratio is 0.25, slightly better than Welbeck. It must be noted he has scored five more times from less than three seasons, whereas Welbeck’s tally came during five full campaigns and three as a regular.
So there is an argument to be made Rashford is on the same path.
Again, age is the decisive factor here. Welbeck is six years older. The Wythenshawe native reached a seminal moment a week ago, turning 21. His future is now, but is there honestly many who think he will plummet to the depths of Welbeck?
Even though the pair have similar records, another importing factor in Rashford’s favour is he is playing in a very different era to the one Welbeck was nurtured in. Welbeck was part of a hugely successful and terrifying United squad. One that strolled to success with powerful regularity.
The dour and defeatist tactics of Mourinho are not aiding Rashford’s development. United have been in decline ever since Ferguson retired, struggling in the mire as rivals Liverpool and Manchester City now aspire.
Welbeck played in a glorious era where swashbuckling, scintillating football was the norm, a way of life. There were myriad of opportunities presented every game for the forwards to gobble up.
But while Welbeck showed glimpses, he was never able to, or was prevented from, making his mark.
Whereas Rashford may not be grabbing the headlines as he did initially, he is a better player than Welbeck in all areas.
Every facet of his game – even if it might still need tweaking or perfecting – is better. From shooting to first touch, work rate, movement off the ball, tracking back and even finishing – which is one of fans and critics’ biggest criticisms of him – he is superior.
Rashford is likely to get another chance to prove his worth in Turin on Wednesday as he should start against Juventus in the continued absence of Romelu Lukaku.
He has shown in recent weeks he is learning and improving all the time, even if fans can’t see it.
The England international started centrally as Lukaku was dropped for the 2-1 Everton win. And even though he was shunted into the shadows by the brilliance of Martial, his contribution cannot be overlooked, in what was overall a much more vivacious United performance.
He probed and stretched Everton’s defence, chased and harried into the channels and opened up space for the likes of Martial and Paul Pogba.
Of course, he needs to be more consistent in front of goal and after scoring the winner against Bournemouth he has a chance to go on a run. But that will come with a more consistent and prolonged run of games in the team.
Should Mourinho put his faith and trust in Rashford, he can become what Welbeck could not, the next local lad to become a United great.
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