Manchester United’s ‘electric’ Marcus Rashford no guarantee, but ‘top, top’ potential clear

Andy Mitten details the possibilities of Marcus Rashford for Manchester United, and hears from Nicky Butt who says 'he has electric pace, a great work ethic and a willingness to learn'.
Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring against Midtjylland for Manchester United in their Europa League contest on Thursday night. Russell Cheyne / Reuters / February 25, 2016
Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring against Midtjylland for Manchester United in their Europa League contest on Thursday night. Russell Cheyne / Reuters / February 25, 2016

Not only did Marcus Rashford become Manchester United’s youngest European goalscorer when he struck two goals on Thursday night as United came from behind to beat Danish side Midtjylland in the Europa League, but the 18-year-old Mancunian United fan also became only the second player to score for United’s Under 18s, 19s, 21s and the first team in the same season.

James Wilson, now on loan at Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion, was the first player to do it last season. Like Rashford, he scored twice on his United debut as an 18-year-old, though Wilson’s goals came in an end-of-season dead rubber against Hull City rather than to save United from being eliminated from European competition.

Read more: Richie Wellens interview – Onetime Manchester United hope talks Alex Ferguson and almost making it

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Wilson was popular with fans who watched United’s young sides and he did well in glimpses for the first-team last season, starting four games and featuring in a further 13 from the substitutes’ bench.

Manager Louis van Gaal was more circumspect, telling him to reduce dribbling. This season, Van Gaal didn’t play him even when United had injuries. The Dutchman thinks Wilson will develop better away from Old Trafford where he will get more minutes, yet a lack of goals has seen Wilson lose his status as a regular starter at Brighton.

Exciting as it is for a home-grown teenager to play for United’s first team, fans won’t get carried away because history shows they are still a long way off establishing themselves. Many teenagers get a chance in a couple of matches, but the majority end up away from Old Trafford. English football is full of players who played a couple of games for United and then made a career elsewhere, several of them strikers.

Danny Welbeck, who played for the same junior team as Rashford in south Manchester, is the most successful homegrown striker since 1980s star Mark Hughes, though Van Gaal let him leave for Arsenal soon after arriving in 2014.

Welbeck, who returned from injury to score a 95th-minute winning goal for Arsenal against top-of-the-table Leicester City recently, is another Mancunian United fan and he will likely line up against United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Rashford could play if Anthony Martial fails to recover from a hamstring injury picked up in Thursday’s warm up, although Van Gaal has suggested he will be on the bench.

United’s extensive injury list has seen Van Gaal, who has promoted young players including Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller throughout his career, award debuts to six homegrown players this season. Four players made their debuts in February alone, including Rashford, Regan Poole and Joe Riley last week.

It is unlikely any would have got a chance if it wasn’t for the injuries, but Rashford is highly rated. He was the stand out player as United’s U19s beat PSV Eindhoven away in September in the Uefa Youth League, scoring twice in a 3-0 win for Nicky Butt’s side. After another win at Wolfsburg in December, I spoke to Butt about his captain Rashford.

“He is one of those players who you like and ask yourself: ‘How can he not play at the top level?’” said Butt. “In my opinion he is a top, top player. He has a lot to learn still obviously. He has to learn to get better at finishing and getting in the right areas.

“You want more goals and the coaching staff are always feeding him information. We show him videos of Ruud van Nistelrooy, for instance, and how he scored his goals in the six-yard area.

“Marcus tends to get a bit frustrated in there and comes out of the areas to get the ball and then tries to run through. That is a very difficult skill – and you don’t score many goals like that.

“But the added things are he has electric pace, a great work ethic and a willingness to learn.”

Those attributes have served him well so far. His contract is currently worth £1,500 (Dh7,642) per week and expires in 2017, though United are keen to improve the terms and extend it.

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Published: February 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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