John Brewin: Rashford is no Mbappe, but he’s one of England’s brightest

As Marcus Rashford returns to club duty with Manchester United, John Brewin looks at why he is performing better in white than red…


Tony Gill, Lee Martin, Russell Beardsmore, Lee Sharpe and Mark Robins: it is 30 years ago this autumn that Alex Ferguson introduced his first crop of “Fergie’s Fledglings” to Manchester United’s first team.

Their flush of collective fame did not last long: Gill broke an ankle and had to retire; Beardsmore burned brightly but faded away and was sold on to Bournemouth; Martin and Robins scored vital goals in the 1990 FA Cup run that saved Ferguson but soon lost their places; Sharpe survived longest but ended up being crowded out by the “Class of ’92” that followed on.

When Ferguson was hanging on grimly through the winter of 1989, only for victory at Wembley the following May to establish his dynasty, it was his work with young players that kept the likes of Bobby Charlton and Matt Busby on his side.

The basis of United’s legend lay in the flowering of youth, the “Busby Babes” of the 1950s and George Best the following decade.

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Behind the scenes, Ferguson was reforging that approach. It won him time, just as a young player making his first steps in the team will receive leeway from fans and especially if they are local.

Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers were all given such encouragement on their way to becoming such great servants to the club.

Thirty years on from Gill et al, Marcus Rashford is a local lad that fans should identify with. His first flush of fame, when plucked from obscurity in an emergency by Louis van Gaal, was incendiary, and now into his fourth season with the first team, he is still yet to celebrate his 21st birthday.

Speedy, skilful and with an eye for goal, he is just the type of player who ought to be raising fans at Old Trafford out of their red plastic seats.

But just one United goal this season, and that coming in a 3-1 lost cause at West Ham, is suggesting diminished returns.

The bright young thing of the spring of 2016, with now over 100 appearances to his name, has lost his novelty value.

Rashford has become just another player for fans to grumble about amid the footballing austerity of Jose Mourinho’s downward-spiralling reign.

Those United fans not taking a well-deserved rest from football during the international break might have caught sight of a fleet-footed forward cutting Spain to ribbons.

The Rashford that United fans remembered playing for their team was very much in evidence in Seville.

Surging on to a Harry Kane pass, he controlled the ball and thrashed it past United teammate David de Gea for England’s second goal.

For the first, it had been Rashford’s measured, angled ball that was the final pass in the flowing move that ended with Raheem Sterling’s finish. Rashford was playing with a confidence and freedom, perhaps surprisingly since during Friday’s behind closed doors stalemate with Croatia, he had been guilty of two glaring misses.

And yet, after Gareth Southgate kept faith in him, Rashford ran riot against the Spanish.

With three goals in four England matches this season dwarfing his United total, he has become that rarity, a player better for club than country.

It is a difference that cannot be ignored and something that his club manager, who these days seems all too aware of what is written about him, has attempted to address.

“He’s Marcus Rashford, Manchester United player, with an incredible number of appearances and an incredible number of minutes played at the highest level in the best possible competitions,” Mourinho said in September.

The argument put forward was that Rashford has played more minutes that anyone of his age, and also by a manager who famously said that “in ten minutes you can show me if you are ready or if you are not ready”.

Mourinho’s is an argument that favours quantity over quality, but a young player dragooned into a rigid left-wing position he is not comfortable with and within a one-dimensional system is not receiving quality time on the field.

Rashford made his bones as a central striker, but under Mourinho has to play off Romelu Lukaku as if shoehorned into the team, and was dropped to the bench as soon as Alexis Sanchez arrived on the scene.

Adaptability is expected as might be patience from a young player, but denying talent its chance to properly shine can damn a manager.

Mourinho might point to minutes for Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay, his particular favourite, but it appears little more than lip service.

Rashford is no Kylian Mbappe but he is one of England’s brightest talents.

At United, where youth is cherished, he is in danger of being wasted by a manager tone deaf to such traditions.

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