One of the major concerns the Manchester United fans had when José Mourinho was appointed was whether he would give enough chances to the club’s young talents.
The Portuguese, in self-defence, came out with a list of 49 players he had promoted from various academies, at his introductory press conference. A detailed examination of the list showed that only 14 of those players made more than five appearances under him.
Manchester United fans had every reason to panic. It’s not the development of Tyler Beckett or Donald Love they were worried about, rather it was what would happen to the development of their precious young jewel, Marcus Rashford, which made them nervous.
It has been a fairytale journey for the young Englishman so far. He had a memorable debut against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League in February which he followed up with a brace in United’s famous 3-2 win over Arsenal in the Premier League.
He brought a breath of fresh air to a boring United side that was heading towards a pointless direction under Louis van Gaal. He earned a deserved national team call up, and stole the limelight on his debut when he scored against Australia in May. Roy Hodgson made a strong call in selecting him to the England squad for the Euro 2016 but wasn’t bold enough to use him properly.
Rashford was sidelined for the opening two matches that United won comfortably. Against Hull City, when the Zlatans, Pogbas, and Rooneys failed to break the home side’s resilience, young Rashford was asked to break the deadlock. And boy, the lad came up with a fitting reply. He not only scored a late goal to earn his side the full three points, but also left a note to his manager that he should not be restricted to bit-part roles.
When left out of the England senior team, he responded splendidly by scoring a hat-trick against Norway for the England U-21’s.
He has played 32 of 37 possible games in all competitions since making his debut. Now, by picking him regularly, Mourinho has allayed the fears of the Manchester United fans that his development has been taken care of. The question remains — is it so?
Rashford hasn’t scored since September. He’s showing the first signs of his vulnerability. Age is just an excuse. Robbie Fowler had scored 90 odd goals for Liverpool before turning 21. Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney each made their mark in the international arena at an early age.
He is getting the exposure and sufficient game time, but by playing him out of his natural position, Mourinho is not doing him any favours. He is a natural goal scorer and should be playing as a striker up front.
Having said that, not many managers in the world are brave enough to drop Ibrahimović and use a young teenager instead. Playing both of them together can be an option, but Mourinho is not comfortable playing with two out-and-out strikers.
Is Mourinho doing enough to polish Rashford’s incredible talents? Only time will tell, but apprehension remains that his growth and development will be stunted, should he continue playing out of position.