Marcus Rashford dines out on 50th Man United goal and proves he has appetite for success

Matt Jones - Editor 19:13 05/11/2019
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Are any Marcus Rashford detractors ready to eat their words, or would they prefer to continue to chew the fat about an obviously talented player they believe is nevertheless destined to never fully make his mark?

The player himself was dining out on his 50th Manchester United goal a little over a week ago, as well as a thoroughly impressive performance in the 3-1 win against Norwich as United, and Rashford in-particular, feasted on the Canaries.

Boosted by the return of Anthony Martial who has been out injured for two months, Rashford buoyed by a return to his favoured left flank and a breathtaking team performance that hinted at what might be in store should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer actually be afforded the time to bring his vision to life, United blossomed.

Rashford followed his renaissance-like resurgence with a rapier-sharp performance in the 2-1 Carabao Cup win against Chelsea – his 51st and 52nd United goals sending the Red Devils roaring into the quarter-finals.

His majestic, match-winning free-kick was arguably his best ever in a red shirt. Cristiano Ronaldo-esque many opined.

Fitting that, considering he reached half a century of United goals five games quicker than a certain Portuguese phenomenon.

Now, two performances does not a career make, it must be said. He was unable to drag his side level or even to victory in the weekend’s disappointing defeat at Bournemouth, for example.

And this is not to suggest Rashford is going to blaze a trail quite like the Juventus behemoth did and spark the next planet-engulfing duel about who is the best player in the world over the next decade, with Kylian Mbappe in the Lionel Messi role.

Rashford is a much better player with Martial by his side.

Rashford is a much better player with Martial by his side.

Not many pundits – not many United fans in fact – believe Rashford can reach that world-class level. But it’s worth pointing out that he was blowing out the candles on just his 22nd birthday cake the day after the Chelsea game.

Depending on which way you lean on Rashford, it could be fitting, or foreboding, that his 50th United goal overshadowed Ronaldo; getting there in 183 games, Ronaldo in 188.

Yes, the half century was reached against Norwich who, unlike most opponents United face, are happy to open up to teams rather than clam up and cause problems.

Yes, performances like this – as well as goals – need to come on a more regular basis, from both club and player.

Yes, there is still a long, long way to go if he is to join the pantheon of truly great United forwards.

But, the last week was a showcase. Proof the Wythanshawe wonderboy is undoubtedly capable of wearing the metaphorical capes adorned by Old Trafford superheroes of yesteryear.

United fans love a local lad done good success story. Or an academy product chiselled and carved into a colossus worldwide. There have been plenty of them to admire down the years, from Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs, to Gary Neville and Wes Brown.

But while a deeply entrenched trust in youth has yielded a tangible payoff and is a currency that will often buy time with the fanbase, many United supporters are feeling short-changed with Rashford.

Despite bursting onto the scene with a marvellous eight strikes in 18 appearances following that magical debut against Midtjylland in February 2016, his subsequent progress at Old Trafford has been meandering rather than meteoric.

Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene with a brace on his United debut against FC Midtjylland in February, 2016.

Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene with a brace on his United debut against FC Midtjylland in February, 2016.

He scored as many Premier League goals (5) in that maiden campaign as he did in 21 more outings in 2016/17 – his first full season, in which West Brom defender Gareth McAuley found the net more times (6).

A year on he added two more goals (7) to his tally, from 35 games, though much-maligned Everton forward Oumar Niasse bagged eight from only 22 outings.

Last year he improved his stats again, scoring 10 league goals. But Crystal Palace central midfielder Luka Milivojevic’s 12 strikes (10 of them admittedly penalties) was superior.

And yet, sustained or growing anger aimed at Rashford is substantially short-sighted.

To get to 50 in what has been one of the most unsettled, uncharacteristic, uninspiring United teams of all time is uniquely impressive. He has risen through the ranks at a time when the team has been stagnating.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s introduction of Beckham, Paul Scholes and the rest of the Class of 92 was a bold, brave move. But United’s situation was hardly bleak, certainly the case in the six seasons following the Scot’s retirement.

When United lost the opening game of the 1995/96 season 3-1 at Aston Villa, with the Neville brothers, Scholes and Nicky Butt in the starting line-up, Beckham coming off the bench to score an 82nd-minute consolation, and prompting Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen’s infamous “You’ll win nothing with kids” line, it was risky. But hardly a red alert.

United had finished runners-up to Blackburn the year before, prompting Fergie to promote his fledglings and dispense of stalwarts Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis. They’d won back-to-back titles the previous two seasons and claimed back-to-back titles again, starting with success in that 95/96 campaign.

It was the first of five titles in six years. The foundations of success built on the club’s long-standing belief and excellence in shaping youth bearing fruit.

Because of this, anyone who has come through the academy since has been looked at a little more critically – Chris Eagles, Tom Cleverley, Darron Gibson, Will Keane and James Wilson to name a few.

Rashford got to 50 United goals quicker than Ronaldo.

Rashford got to 50 United goals quicker than Ronaldo.

And since the success under Sir Alex has dried up, there has been an increasing search for a home-grown saviour. Hope that seems futile in the midst of a decaying club blighted by mismanagement from the top, a growing toxicity among fans and with three managerial basket cases trying and failing to steady a sinking ship and put it back on course.

All of which has been allowed to occur under the negligent, or even non-existent, ownership of the Glazers.

And Rashford is expected to be a shining light and guide the club through all of this? It is an absurd ask to burden him with. And yet, there is more than a flickering of life in him

The Ronaldo-esque free-kick, the temperament shown against Norwich – missing a penalty before nervelessly bringing Dan James’ cross under his spell instantly and the unerring finish under Tim Krul to make it 1-0. His intelligent link-up play with Martial, including the impish flick into his path for the Frenchman’s goal.

All world-class elements of a player yet to break into the elite, but who is so close.

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