The appointment of Jose Mourinho raised concerns about the development of Marcus Rashford last summer. Despite the Manchester United manager’s claims about bringing his ability to filter through young players at previous clubs, he has been known to rely on experienced players throughout his coaching career. This has been evidenced once again at Manchester United as he immediately opted to bring in the 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer. Although the Swede is a world class striker and has carried the side at times this season, it was a move that showed short-termism from the former Chelsea boss. Rashford has certainly suffered in terms of playing time as a result.
Despite featuring in double the amount of Premier League matches this season, the teenage striker has only played 310 minutes more. He has been used in an impact sub role, with a number of his appearances coming in wide positions rather than his favoured centre forward role. There are benefits from having Rashford learn from a world-class talent like Ibrahimovic, but the main drawback was that it would limit his own playing time.
His rise last season was a result of necessity rather than the striker earning his chance, but he immediately made an impact and earned a reputation as one of the best talents in Europe. Although he has shown that he is good enough to play regularly for Manchester United, teams in the Premier League favour players with experience and it is obvious that Mourinho doesn’t fully trust Rashford. This week, Germany U21s will meet England U21s and the difference in first team experience underlines the problems that the teenage striker is facing. Between them, the England U21s have played a total of 206 Premier League appearances, while their German counterparts have featured in 1,085 Bundesliga matches. Young players aren’t getting their chances in this country and it is a worry that is highlighted by the blockage in Rashford’s career.
This season has been an interesting one for Rashford, as he has improved in several areas in spite of his lack of regular football. He is averaging 1.08 chances created, 1 key pass and 2.32 attempted shots per ninety minutes. These are all better than last season when he averaged 0.63 chances created, 0.42 key passes and 1.68 attempted shots. Manchester United are more fluid in the final third than they were under Louis van Gaal and that is providing Rashford with a platform to shine when he is on the pitch.
However, he has only contributed three goals and one assist, compared to five goals and two assists last season. He has had more time on the pitch and is more influential in the final third, but his end product isn’t what it was. This emphasises the importance of clearly defining the role and playing time for a young player. Last season, he built up his confidence as he knew that he would be playing every week and he wasn’t moved from the centre forward position. Young players need consistency and they need to believe that the rest of the team believes in him to perform. Rashford had that last season and he thrived as a result. The difference this season has been that he hasn’t been given many opportunities. Therefore, when he does get on the pitch, he is too eager to impress and that leads to him being wasteful in front of goal.
Rashford remains one of the brightest prospects in Europe, but his current role doesn’t suit him. Although he can cause problems as an impact sub, it is hindering his development as he isn’t allowed to build up confidence and isn’t relaxed when he gets on the pitch. Jose Mourinho has the opportunity to prove that he can develop young players and he needs to change his approach with the striker if he is to succeed. If he doesn’t, one of the most exciting talents that this country has seen in recent years could go to waste.