Marcus Rashford scored a brilliant goal for England in their final friendly before the World Cup, as they beat Costa Rica 2-0.
It didn’t take long for social media to come alive with comments about Jose Mourinho and his misuse of the young striker in the Premier League season just gone. While he rarely gets credit for Jesse Lingard’s emergence as England’s no.7, he takes plenty of the blame when it comes to Rashford’s average campaign, and plenty of that criticism is fair.
With Romelu Lukaku the manager’s striker of choice, Rashford’s role has largely been confined to the wide positions. In the Belgian’s absence through injury in the FA Cup final, Rashford played up front but did little to answer any of the manager’s reservations about using him in this role more frequently.
Rashford has to take some responsibility for that, after missing a good opportunity to level the score just before half-time.
“I think he has to do better there,” Scholes said. “That’s poor technique. He’s eight yards out. He needs a better connection and it’s a goal.”
There’s little Mourinho can do to make sure that Rashford scores the chances that are created for him. Yet after the manager was disparaging of the player just a couple of weeks before, when he did very little when playing in Lukaku’s absence in the league game against Bristol, it’s little wonder that the striker was lacking in confidence.
“Why always Lukaku? Now you see why,” Mourinho said in his post-match interview.
Is this the manager’s attempt at tough love, spurring the youngster on to prove him wrong, or is he crushing him?
Joe Cole suffered similar treated from Mourinho during their time together at Chelsea. After a difficult first season, he finished his second campaign under Mourinho with a spot in the PFA Team of the Year.
“He cracked the whip with me a lot,” Cole reflected a few months ago. “Looking back, there were times when I was really mad with him, but he knew what he was doing. He knew how to wind me up and get a performance out of me. He knew that if he dropped me, when he brought me on for 20 minutes in the next game he was going to get 20 minutes of the best I could give.”
Many supporters disagree with Mourinho calling individuals out in the press and suggest he does this to deflect blame after disappointing results. There certainly has to be some truth in this. But Mourinho wants to be the best and he wants his players to be the best too. He wants them to be strong mentally and is eager for them to respond to his criticism, usually fair if not evenly distributed among all who deserve it, in a positive way.
Gareth Southgate reflected on how Rashford’s tougher mentality helped him out in the game against Costa Rica.
“What pleased me most is that Marcus Rashford enjoyed his football,” he said. “He played with a real swagger. He’s a Manchester United player and he got booed at the start and cheered off at the end.”
Yet in the cup final, as in the other occasions when Rashford has lead the line, Mourinho hasn’t set the team up to play in a way that brings out the best in the forward. He worked tirelessly at Wembley against Chelsea, making great runs time and again, but he was very rarely found by his teammates. Lukaku suits the style of football Mourinho wants to play and Rashford doesn’t.
Yet despite this, he’s had brilliant moments in the season when he has shown what he is capable of. He scored 13 goals, his highest ever total, including one against Manchester City and two against Liverpool. He had found the back of the net twice in opening 25 minutes in United’s 2-1 win over Jurgen Klopp’s team back in March after being afforded a start from Mourinho. But in the very next game, while Rashford was again in the starting line-up, he was moved to the other side of the pitch and failed to impress. He was then left out of the first XI in the next league game.
Marcus Rashford is such a prodigious talent. 👏👏
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 7, 2018
Supporters can be grateful that Rashford has been at the club since he was seven, fulfilling his lifelong dream in playing for United, and therefore will be more likely than others, namely Anthony Martial, to want to stick it out under Mourinho. There’s every chance he will be at the club for far longer than the manager. He’s still only 20-years-old, seasons away from his peak, so time is on his side.
While the player will likely learn so much from playing under Mourinho, not all positive, there’s the hope these setbacks go on to help him become a top player in the future, under a manager who gives him a better platform for success.
But it is up to Rashford to make the best of a less than ideal situation at United. The supporters can hope for a solid World Cup campaign with England and for him to return to Old Trafford full of confidence and ready to take everyone on again, Mourinho included, to prove what a talented player he is.