Marcus Rashford reaches Manchester United crossroads as he looks to win back fans

Homegrown forward endured miserable 2021/22 season but is determined for fresh start under new manager Erik ten Hag

Marcus Rashford scored just five goals for Manchester United last season. Reuters
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This is not how it was supposed to go.

As all else was ablaze around him, with Manchester United lurching from one disaster to the next in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, one player in particular provided hope of a brighter future, when taking a break from feeding children off the pitch.

But to say things have turned distinctly sour for Marcus Rashford in the last year is an understatement.

No United player, other than perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea, can look themselves in the mirror and say with any great authority that they performed to their best of their abilities last season, but Rashford hit rock bottom.

His own people turned on him, seeing the once homegrown hero as the embodiment of a disinterested and uninspiring United side.

Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, sources have told The National Rashford has decided to take matters into his own hands, knowing that, as he approaches his 25th birthday, this season could be his last chance to show he has what it takes to lead a United renaissance.

Consistency has always been an issue for Rashford since he burst on to the scene with a double against Arsenal on his Premier League debut in 2016.

Much of that could be apportioned to various managers trialling him in different roles across the front three, while several injury problems have also hampered his progress.

However, after returning from shoulder surgery last October with three goals in four games, Rashford looked primed to finally fulfil the potential his fellow Mancunians witnessed from a young age, only to deteriorate quickly once again, as he could muster only two more goals for the rest of the season.

Manchester United ratings for 2021/22 season

Disgruntled supporters had seen enough. As Rashford decided to turn his back on a loose ball in the penalty area during United’s clash with Aston Villa in January, the mood at Old Trafford turned vitriolic, with boos booming down from the terraces and ironic cheers heard as he was later substituted.

Things went from bad to worse as Rashford admitted emotions got the better of him in March after clashing with a fan following United’s 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Nonetheless, Rashford feels the relationship is repairable. What Rashford has done for the city of Manchester earned him a special bond that with renewed application, when the new season gets underway, his team feel can be re-established again.

To set about doing just that, the England forward embarked on a “working holiday” in the US before official pre-season training resumed this week.

While other teammates were perfecting their golf swings on sun-baked golf courses, Rashford undertook an intense, heavy-lifting filled first part of his US fitness trip, before being put through his paces on a visit to Nike’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has Marcus Rashford very much in his plans for next season. PA

The initial conversations with new manager Erik ten Hag have been promising, with the Dutchman already taking a hands-on approach with Rashford in his first session at United’s training base.

There are plans afoot to help Rashford turn things around. Despite some reports suggesting Cristiano Ronaldo plans to seek pastures new, the club have no plans to sell the veteran superstar, and Ten Hag wants to build his attack around him.

That is not to say the United manager is not aware of 37-year-old Ronaldo’s mobility limitations, and he is already working out how to counter any lack of willing to put in the hard yards.

Rashford, on the left of a more youthful forward line that will also include Jadon Sancho and potential new arrival Antony from Ajax, can do just that.

The club feel Ronaldo, much like Eric Cantona did with youngsters during his time in England, can have a huge influence on those around him in training. A knowledgeable, caring hand on the shoulder is just what one struggling local lad needs.

Last season has shown Rashford just how bad things can get. A fresh start was needed, for club and player. Now the homegrown hero must prove his worth, or risk the feelgood tale having an unsavoury ending, away from his beloved city.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 4:42 AM
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