Marcus Rashford is football at its most basic and glorious

Date published: Friday 6th December 2019 1:41 - Matthew Stead

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero seems to have been around for ages but only turned 22 at the end of October. The fact that he’s already played 190 games for Manchester United probably contributes to that familiarity.

A local Wythenshawe lad who burst onto the scene in February 2016’s Europa League tie against Midtjylland with two goals, he became Manchester United’s youngest ever scorer in European competition. Another two against Arsenal a few days later ensured the 18-year-old would be the focus of much hype by the press, something his first international goal for England v Australia in May 2016 did nothing to suppress.

But his time at United has been an especially turbulent one as the club floats directionless on the football seas. He’s already played under three different managers and in what feels like about four entirely different sides, as players have come and gone in the largely failed search for consistency and success. Even so, he’s already got an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League winner’s medal on the mantelpiece (I bet he doesn’t have an actual mantelpiece).

Given this fact, his 57 goals in 190 games seems like a good return, especially for a team that is permanently unsettled and seems short of players who play really well on a regular basis, despite signing an almost uncountable amount of them even in his few years in the first team.

It seems very likely the club hierarchy knows how much he is literally worth to the club, but do not understand what his true value is.

One wonders exactly how many goals he’d have so far scored if he’d played in a really good team that wasn’t so dysfunctional and was headed by a manager everyone could believe in. A sodding lot, is probably the answer.

A thrilling, tall, powerful, fast and athletic player who is capable of winning a game pretty much on his own and who is arguably the biggest club in the world’s greatest asset? That’ll be Marcus Rashford, then.


What have they done to deserve this then?
The 2019/20 season looks set to be easily his best yet. With 12 goals in just 20 games and 13 being his highest in a campaign so far, he will surpass his previous best by some measure. He is, quite literally, keeping his manager in a job. Whether that is a good thing is for others to debate.

His two goals on Wednesday not only beat Spurs but also his old boss Jose Mourinho, and thus must’ve been doubly satisfying. It is his pace and direct running style which really thrills. His first was typical, taking the ball on the left, running directly to goal and unleashing an early shot that beat the keeper at his near post, who probably should’ve done better. But it was Marcus’ quick thinking that did for him, picking up the ball, accelerating and shooting so early and fearlessly.

There is no better sight in football than a striker who is fast and direct. You can play as complex and intricate a style of football as you like in pursuit of the perfect goal by passing it around a thousand times, but it can all too often be more maths than poetry. Rashford’s talent cuts through such pretension. Get the ball, go for goal and shoot seems to be his modus operandi, and he’s one of the best English strikers at it.

As Daniel said in Winners and Losers yesterday:

‘When Rashford is in this form and confidence, there is an air of Thierry Henry about him. He either makes defenders commit themselves and then glides past them, or makes defenders back off to protect against being dribbled past and therefore has time to attempt a shot.’

Wednesday’s first half also saw him strike the bar from 30 yards with a vicious shot. It’s this commitment to at the very least try to score goals that endears him to neutrals and fans alike. It also must be said: he has a lovable, boyish charm to him. Despite United’s well-documented travails, and his own dips in form (and those two things are probably inseparable) he remains his club’s best striker by some measure and the player who you look to, not just to score but to put the opposition under some pressure.

His second goal against Spurs was a penalty that he had won for himself, slipping the ball past Serge Aurier and accelerating into the area, drawing a foul. It was a few seconds of brilliant, exciting football that had his brand stamped all over it.

The pressure was on with the score at 1-1 thanks to a ridiculously sublime Dele Alli goal and his record from the spot isn’t perfect, but he sent the keeper the wrong way after a little (nerve-racking for fans) stuttering shuffle.

It’s not insignificant that along with Sadio Mane, he has four assists in the Premier League, the most of any of the top goalscorers, proving his contribution isn’t limited to scoring. And as he’s only just 22, his theoretical prime years are still well ahead of him.


Media Reaction?
All things Manchester United are bound to get blanket coverage and a top English striker playing for them especially so. While the tall poppy syndrome always remains in one of the barrels of the news media’s shotgun, and another loaded with racist tropes, there seems little appetite to fire it at the moment. But it doesn’t take much for them to give anyone both barrels if they think there’s clicks in it.

The Guardian went with ‘Rashford exposes Tottenham to ruin Mourinho’s Manchester United return’.

The Mail also made it in part about Mourinho, of course. I’m only surprised they didn’t call him ‘The Losing One’: ‘Marcus Rashford double ends Jose Mourinho’s winning run on his return to Old Trafford’. Or maybe they did because, obviously, I didn’t read their report what with it being in the Mail and thus tainted with sin.

They also ran with some utter dreck under the headline JOSE ON THE WARPATH. When did fiction become passed off as news?

Speaking of fans of liars, the weird right-wing extremist purveyor of tabloid-style nonsense that is the Daily Telegraph ran James Ducker’s piece under the windy headline: ‘”Lads it’s Jose.” The Reawakening of Marcus Rashford and Why United’s Players Raised Their Game Against Mourinho’.

It was probably something to do with Brexit.


Anyone grumpy about it?
The new Spurs boss was probably a tad vexed but there is a general agreement that all things Rashford are to be enjoyed. When he’s not on form, there is less light in the football universe.

His is the most easily enjoyed brand of football and while there are the inevitable ups and downs with any young talented player, especially at a club in such a state of flux, I think most feel that it’s worth sticking behind the lad. His raw, exciting talent delivers too much joy to be down about it. And when he plays for England he’s been like a man transformed, placed in a more positive environment. With four goals in seven games this year, he’s likely become undroppable by Gareth Southgate.


What the people say
Marcus is very easy to like and admire, even if you’re not a Manchester United fan and we probably all wish our club had a local boy who was so damn good.

Let’s begin with our traditional 4_4_haiku:

‘He’s pretty impressive in no shirt on a treadmill.’

‘He’s had to grow up fast and shows maturity way beyond his years; such an exciting player to watch.’

‘The one player that Man U have that scares me when they play my team – he is quick and has a real eye for goal.’

‘I’m never head over heels for him, but he’s thriving in what’s a very underwhelming setup. Think of what he could in a better team, where he’s not asked to carry all the burdens.’

‘He’s 22, hits a ball beautifully, played 190 top level games, yet his progress has been stunted by having 3 v different club managers. I think his resilience has been excellent.’

‘He’s a very talented player who always has a great air of modesty about him that makes him seem very likeable.’

‘He’s 22 and has been carrying a global footballing colossus on his back for 5 seasons now. All whilst dealing with the worst kinds of abuse. Yet is performing better than he ever has before AND seems to be a nice bloke. I unashamedly love him and hope he’s getting looked after!’

‘He almost broke Man United’s hat-trick famine. Did you know that the last player to score a hat-trick for United in the Premier League was Robin van Persie back in April 2013? Well you do now.’

‘He should be exhibit A of the current kneejerk/write them off culture at the present. Instead of being compared to 22 year olds he’s compared to where the greatest players were at 22 with no nuance into the team and org around him nor the fact he’ll improve.’

‘Off the left Rashford has the potential to become one of the most prolific and dangerous wide men in Europe. If Martial isn’t up to the task one of the most important areas for United will be to add a genuine CF.’

‘On course to break United’s all time goalscoring record.’

‘He still has a lot of room for improvement – he doesn’t use his left foot enough, he shoots when he should pass and he blasts when he should be cute – but he’s got a big game approach that makes Donald Trump Jr seem like a Greenpeace activist. All the clamour for him to play as a 9, when he’s a perfect example of how the goalscoring, ‘striker’ role has moved out wide, just as ‘wingers’ have moved to full-back, and in Utd’s case the midfield has moved into mediocre, hot-take punditry.’

‘Looking back as a United fan it strikes me how most of the (admittedly few) moments of happiness the team have given me in the past 5 years have involved him. He’s just bloody marvellous.’


What does the future hold?
He signed a new four-year contract in July with wages reported at a £1m per month, so it seems likely that his future lies at Old Trafford at least into his mid-20s. There is a sense that he is a player that the club will be built around in the future; that he will be the local boy who implicitly understands what it all means to fans and will carry the true United flame at all times.

It seems unlikely that his current manager will be in charge for too long. Were he to play under the recent Spurs manager – a scenario many wish for – it is impossible not to envisage him flourishing into one of the all-time great strikers for the club. He’s certainly well on the way to that already. He finally seems to have settled on playing the role on the left of a three and is doubtless thriving because of that, having played in several positions so far in his career.

United have no more exciting, no more thrilling, no more get-you-off-your-seat player than Marcus Rashford and for someone so young, that is already a remarkable contribution to the game and to the history of a club not exactly short of legends.

John Nicholson


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