Gary Neville recently afforded Marcus Rashford a high-end compliment by insisting that the Manchester United forward was England’s most promising talent. This was in stark contrast to the pundit’s comments less than a month prior: “Marcus these last couple of weeks has been nowhere near. I went to both Barcelona games and he looks off it at the moment. He looks like he’s carrying an injury at the moment, or something is not quite right, or the season has caught up with him.”
There is of course nothing contradictory about these remarks – one refers to form, the other to potential – yet even so praise for the 21-year-old this season from anyone with United in their blood sounds a little bit forced. Like a parent who once confidently claimed their little boy was an angel, a cherub, now prevaricating as that child grows up and goes off the rails: “He’s a good lad really. At heart.”
And speaking of going off the rails – or at least, as close to that as a thoroughly decent individual like Rashford is ever likely to sour – an anonymous team-mate has also reportedly insinuated that he is ‘not quite the humble figure he used to be’.
So what gives? Is there a problem with England’s most promising talent? Is he not quite as promising as we were promised?
When the Manchester-born striker first broke through in early 2016 he astonished. He scored twice on his league debut. He scored twice on his European debut. He scored on his international debut. More than his goals though his electric bursts and clinical demeanour marked him out as a possibly special find, one who few beyond Old Trafford even knew existed until he began dominating the back pages.
The uncertainly was exciting because nobody knew where the ceiling was in his development.
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Now, three years on we are still not dealing in absolutes and after 170 United appearances and over ten thousand hours of professional football perhaps we should be. Instead, queries persist, big queries too such as wondering if this season’s underwhelming displays – along with a reputation for skying free-kicks as the norm – is simply a sustained period of poor form or if Rashford has levelled out after proverbially bumping his head on the ceiling.
Not that many dare air these queries. Earlier this month 360Sources tweeted…
If Marcus Rashford wasn’t English, the media and pundits would slaughter him due to his embarrassing form since the PSG away game and his dreadful free kicks, instead they will destroy Paul Pogba as usual.
— 360Sources (@360Sources) May 5, 2019
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge and almost immediately reverted his young charge to the centre ground things began to make sense. It was Jose Mourinho who was to blame, clearly. Because look at him, scoring for fun again. Involved and impactful.
But then the levels dropped once more, dramatically so. He was anonymous against West Ham. He was woeful at Everton. He was outshone by Mason Greenwood against Cardiff.
While the media continue with their nonsensical speculation that Barcelona are willing to splash out over a £100m on a player who is no longer burning bright the truth is that next season is key for Rashford. He must prove definitively once and for all whether he is indeed England’s most promising talent. Or just a good lad really.