There is a common misconception, largely created by lazy pundits, that Marcus Rashford didn’t receive enough game-time from Jose Mourinho last season. In truth, the Manchester United youngster made a whopping 53 appearances across all competitions and picked up the most Premier League minutes, 1703, of any teenager.
He also featured five times for England at senior or U21 level, without including his involvement in the European Championship prior to the 2016/17 campaign kicking off.
Indeed, Rashford has been a busy boy over the last year and understandably so; as an exceptionally quick, exceptionally positive, home-grown attacking player, his services are naturally in demand from both Mourinho and Gareth Southgate – but particularly the latter.
While Mourinho has a like-minded alternative in Anthony Martial to turn to, Rashford has already become a near-indispensable figure for this underwhelming England side: dangerous, confident and capable of lifting ever-disillusioned fans off their seats with rare glimpses of fluid ingenuity.
That was very much the case on Thursday when Rashford proved one of the rare few threats to a well-organised Slovenia defence, almost lobbing Jan Oblak early in the second half, and again last night when Southgate’s side travelled to Lithuania.
The only goal was provided by a Harry Kane penalty in another dull affair, but the 19-year-old continued to pepper the game with rare instances of quality – recording the most created chances and the most dribbles of any player on the pitch despite being subbed off in the 71st minute.
While most England fans will be pleased to see a young and hugely promising attacking player performing well for his country – the Three Lions certainly need a few more of those – there are negative consequences of Southgate’s sudden dependency on the forward, especially as Rashford has made 15 appearances already this season. In spite of last season’s recurring fallacy, that’s a lot of game-time for a teenager plying his trade at the highest level, featuring regularly in the top flight, the Champions League and senior internationals.
With the careers of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, two players whose peaks were shortened by excessive exposure in their younger years, lingering in the background, Southgate and Mourinho must share the responsibility for protecting a young talent who has the potential to become one of the best in the world.
England’s new-found dependency on Rashford may give a glimmer of hope ahead of the next World Cup, but it won’t last until the next one if the teenager is burnt out by the time he reaches his mid-twenties.