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With his England place now under threat, Marcus Rashford must start delivering for Man Utd

September 6, 2019

MARCUS Rashford’s place in England’s line up is in doubt for Saturday’s game against Bulgaria at Wembley. Few Man Utd fans care if he doesn’t play, ditto when Aaron Wan-Bissaka, United’s best player so far this season, pulled out of the squad with injury.  

United’s relationship with England has long been seen as a one-way deal: the club give England talented players, and then get them back injured. Historically, United have lost some of their best players to serious injury wearing the Three Lions. Steve Coppell, a superb winger who played every game season after season, suffered an injury on international duty which would finish his career. Bryan Robson’s serious injuries in internationals became notorious while Neil Webb went from superb midfielder to slow, bulky slugger after picking up a Achilles injury while playing for his country.   

Rashford isn’t injured; he’s just not in the best form. His close mate Jesse Lingard is also in the England squad, with manager Gareth Southgate defending his decision to choose Lingard by admitting that his United form has been poor, but he’s usually better for England. Lingard had a good World Cup and he scores and assists more for country than for club.

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Rashford needs to step up. Exactly a year ago, Southgate was saying that he believed Rashford was as good as Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane were at the same age. Earlier this year, he said that Rashford is a “tremendous talent” who will only get better and better. Comparisons with Ronaldo and Kane may seem overblown, but Southgate was right. Kane wasn’t a Spurs regular at 20, Ronaldo hadn’t scored as many goals as Rashford at that age.

It’s to his credit that Rashford has achieved much as a teenager and records tumbled for him in those early days in United first team when he fast-tracked himself from the under 18s to being a leading forward. The Mancunian was the youngest United player to score in European competition, he scored on his debuts in several competitions.

Yet Kane and Ronaldo began to properly motor when they were 21. Ronaldo became United’s joint top scorer with 23 goals. His goals tally for his club surged from nine when he was 20 to 12 at 21, 23 goals at 22, and 42 at 23. He did have Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Louis Saha and Nani around him in a team on their way to becoming the best in the world. Rashford does not.

Would Rashford shine in a better team? Barcelona certainly wanted to find out. They felt he was young, fast and talented enough to play across the front three. They didn’t think United would sell him for anything less than an extortionate fee, though his family visited Barcelona to hear them out. Why wouldn’t they? Rashford would be a better player with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez around him.

Fans are often harder on local players. Jose Mourinho loved Rashford. Sir Alex Ferguson does. Pep Guardiola told one United legend that Rashford was the only United player he’d take. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rates him too. Rashford has his moments like any footballer, he can be moody, but he can be charming too. And he can stand up in Paris and score last minute penalties which win the tie. There has not been a better moment this year for Manchester United.

Rashford scored a couple of goals in the first league game against Chelsea and assisted for Antony Martial to score at Wolves in the second game. It’s on this pair that Solskjaer is pinning his main attacking hopes. Though he’s since made suggestions to the contrary, Rashford wanted a central role a year ago and he’s got one, but he must step up to make himself worthy of a United centre forward. Love him or loath him, Romelu Lukaku scored goals.

While he has many qualities, from his acceleration to his finishing, Rashford will be judged by goals. There were few United fans loving him last Saturday in Southampton when he spurned several good chances as United failed to win again, only a week on from his costly penalty miss at home to Crystal Palace. Rashford’s free-kicks need to start hitting the target too.

Like many United players, Rashford finished last season poorly. One goal and no assists in his final 11 league games is dire. Before that drought he’d managed seven goals in ten and was wonderful to watch. Could Rashford really have a problem if Jadon Sancho, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling started as the front three for England? Or if James Maddison or Mason Mount were given a chance? Kane himself has had a sluggish start to the season, maybe the answer is for Rashford to play as a second striker behind Kane in a 4-2-3-1.

Most United fans care little about what formation England play. They’d rather Rashford did well if he played since it could lift his confidence. Rashford has thrived for England too, with four goals against four very good sides in the last year. But chiefly Red fans want him back fit and firing for the Leicester City game next Saturday because he’s needed to convert the chances that Dan James or Juan Mata or Anthony Martial are creating.

Rashford’s been told by his manager than he has to be more clinical and finish the scruffy chances. He’s the player his teammates mean when they talk about United needing to be more ruthless because whatever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has planned to build with his young team for the future, they also need results now. Mourinho always said that Rashford was the head of his youth talent. He’s now the head of United’s first team talent. His time is now.