Less than four months ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to leap to the defence of Marcus Rashford.
“He is still learning what finishes to make in different circumstances,” Solskjaer said after the Manchester United forward missed two excellent chances against Astana, taking his run without an goal in open play to five games. “I don’t worry about it.”
This was a case of ‘dog bites man’; it would have been more newsworthy had Solskjaer criticized his player in public. The Norwegian may have been privately concerned about Rashford’s form, but he was never likely to admit to that in a press conference.
Solskjaer has no such concerns now. Rashford has scored 14 goals in the Premier League this season. Only the evergreen Jamie Vardy has found the back of the net more often. The worry for United now is whether or not they will be able to satisfy the 22-year-old’s ambition.
Few forwards in Europe have performed as well as Rashford in the last few months. The forward netted twice against Chelsea on the opening weekend of the campaign, but only once more in his next nine outings for United.
He then struck against Premier League leaders Liverpool, kick-starting a run that has seen Rashford score 15 goals in his last 20 club appearances in all competitions.
There was once a time when Rashford was considered to be out of position when he was deployed on the left flank. No longer. The 22-year-old has looked at home in that role this campaign, relishing the freedom he is afforded to cut infield onto his stronger right foot.
His willingness and ability to run in behind is vital given Anthony Martial’s propensity to drop deep. The pair’s complementary relationship is why United should not be too disappointed about missing out on Erling Haaland.
Rashford is harder to mark when he starts out wide. Opposing teams must decide whether the full-back should follow his runs inside or pass on responsibility to the center-half. And he is still getting plenty of opportunities from the left, having taken 3.4 shots per game this season – an increase on last term’s average of 2.5 per match.
Rashford signed a new contract last July. Before that he was linked with a move to Barcelona. If he maintains his current level of performance, other European giants could express their interest.
Rashford is a boyhood United fan. He is tied down at Old Trafford until 2023. United are one of the world’s richest clubs and are not under pressure to sell.
Yet Rashford is an ambitious young man. He may have spent his childhood dreaming of lifting the Premier League trophy with United, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side is still some way off even mounting a challenge. After 22 matches they are stuck in fifth place, an astonishing 27 points adrift of Liverpool in top spot.
Rashford made his 200th appearance for United on Saturday, but he is still young. The England international has time on his side. And he will be desperate to win major silverware at Old Trafford.
Yet Rashford should not be blindly loyal to United just because he supported the club as a child. Unless the Red Devils make significant steps forward in the next couple of years, their star player could conclude that his ambitions are more likely to be fulfilled elsewhere.
The career of a footballer is a relatively short one. Rashford should not waste precious years of his competing for a place in the top four.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:38 PM UTC