There was much to catch the eye when Marcus Rashford first burst on to the scene as a teenage prodigy for Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United.
There was his pace and finishing ability, but also his conviction in front of goal.
A double on his debut in the Europa League followed by another against Arsenal just days later hinted at the emergence of a true marksman.
Somewhere along the line, though, something became warped.
Of course, as a young player it was always likely that Rashford would endure peaks and troughs in form, such is the norm for pretty much every talent of a certain age, but he has seemingly changed quite fundamentally as a player in the two-and-a-half years since his breakthrough.
As impressive as Rashford was in England’s away win over Spain on Monday, scoring and assisting, last week’s 0-0 draw in Croatia illustrated this.
Deployed as a centre forward, not as a winger as he tends to be used as by Jose Mourinho at club level, Rashford spurned two golden opportunities to give England all three points and a real foothold in their UEFA Nations League group.
It was the sign of a player who has lost his edge in recent times.
That edge returned for the game in Seville, playing a wonderful pass in behind for Raheem Sterling’s opener before composing himself to finish off England’s second under intense pressure from two Spanish defenders.
But, this is the sort of inconsistency that makes Rashford such a frustrating figure.
Many argue that Rashford’s development has stalled of late, that he should seek to leave Manchester United and the suppressive grips of Mourinho whose track record in bringing through young players leaves much to be desired.
However, much of the criticism angled towards Mourinho over his treatment of Rashford doesn’t quite grasp the true situation.
Few players have received as much game time under Mourinho at United as Rashford has. He has had opportunities and it should be kept in mind that at just 20 years the forward, whether his long term future is as an out-and-out striker or a winger, still has time to find his true identity as an elite performer.
But England’s goalless draw in Rijeka last week, or more accurately the reaction to it, underlined how we, as the footballing public, are not helping Rashford by granting him so much leeway.
Maybe it was down to the surreal circumstances the game was played in, with no fans in the stands due to a stadium ban meted out to Croatia by UEFA, but very little was said about Rashford’s two missed sitters.
They were barely mentioned in the highlights shows and post-match analysis. Sure, Rashford’s misses were included in the highlights reel, but chat quickly moved on to the lack of fans in the stands, or Ben Chilwell’s debut or Gareth Southgate’s switch to a back four.
Had it been any other player the spurned chances surely would have been the main talking point given that they were the only pivotal moments in an otherwise turgid encounter.
Perhaps subconsciously it seems that some are reluctant to criticise Rashford for fear that it may knock the youngster’s confidence.
That is to be admired, on some level, but it doesn’t do him any favours.
Pressure helps forge the best players, the ones who define the sport at the very top level, from a young age. This is a natural burden that comes with their talent.
Rashford has the talent and so he should expect the pressure. It is a privilege, even if it might not feel like it.
It should be noted that Rashford’s performance against Spain, just days after his wasteful display against Croatia, was much more convincing. There was a bullishness to his play that was missing in Rijecka.
This served as a reminder of the player Rashford could be on a more consistent basis.
Not even a team of Spain’s quality and pedigree could cope with him.
Rashford’s ceiling is higher than perhaps any English player’s since Wayne Rooney, and yet fans look at someone like Kylian Mbappe, another pacey striker who broke through at roughly the same time, and see a bona fide superstar. At Paris Saint-Germain, as a €180 million icon, Mbappe must deliver each and every time he steps on a football pitch.
When he doesn’t, there’s an inquest. Rashford could use some of the same tough love.