In early 2017, I interviewed Marcus Rashford for United Review, our matchday programme, and asked if he could learn from how Wayne Rooney had to deal with constant scrutiny as England’s main man.
It was not difficult to envisage a similar scenario developing for the youngster, where he was heralded as a player who could finally bring some glory to the national team, but then has to live up to this hype and expectation every time he wears the Three Lions shirt. His answer was one you would expect from somebody so level headed and grounded.
”Wayne is definitely 100 per cent a huge influence,” he said of his then team-mate.
“He’s been around a long time and knows what’s going on off the pitch as well. So, when we are new to things like interviews, we can only learn from him. I think, for the younger ones looking on, we’ve just got to take note as much as we can.”
Approaching the game away in Croatia, the striker had scored in both of his previous outings for his country – against Spain and Switzerland, two highly ranked nations. Only a stupendous save by David De Gea denied him another goal in the Wembley defeat to Spain and his displays drew widespread praise. Yet this good form was, somehow, turned into a negative against his club.
Apparently, United are holding Rashford back and stunting the growth of this exceptional local homegrown prospect. This conversation filled much airtime, column inches and web space with real credence given to Jamie Carragher’s suggestion that he would be better off at Everton. This might sound ludicrous but it happened and, as a result, Jose Mourinho felt compelled to once again lay out the facts that indicate a footballer he's always believed in has been an important part of his first-team plans since day one.
This latest explanation as to why this agenda is simply a non-story prompted some media outlets to label it a
“rant” and the words
“bizarre” featured heavily in the reaction to a considered attempt to end this folly. People in football cannot have an opinion without apparently ‘blasting’ or ‘slamming’, and this has long been the case with Jose.
Fast forward a month to the weekend's game in Croatia. In difficult circumstances, with the match played in an empty stadium, Gareth Southgate’s side managed a goalless draw with the World Cup finalists. A decent result, no? Apparently not and there needed to be a scapegoat for these dropped points in a competition barely anybody seems to fully understand. Step forward our 20-year-old forward, who was guilty of missing a couple of clear-cut chances and was targeted as the reason for this perceived failure.
So the Rashford debate had to dominate again, although this time it was not that United aren't giving him the game time he deserves but, incredibly, that he may not be not good enough to play up front for his country. The very recent evidence of those previous two fixtures, the ice-cool penalty under intense pressure against Colombia, the dazzling pre-tournament show at Elland Road in the win over Costa Rica, just for starters in the past year, were totally disregarded.
So who could wade into this latest conversation? How about Vinnie Jones, the former Wimbledon hard-man who can deliver opinions in shock-jock fashion on the radio?
“You cannot keep missing like he’s missing, you’ve got to start putting these in the back of the onion bag,” he did actually say, this isn’t a parody. When it was reasonably put to Jones that Rashford is still only 20, he shouted:
“So what? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
It’s difficult to even understand that argument in this context, if he was claiming the United star might not actually be good enough. The comments were as badly timed and wide of the mark as a number of the ex-Wales international’s tackles. Yet they were even played out on the hourly sports news on the radio and were picked up by numerous other outlets, making headlines. Jones was not alone.
Paul Merson gave this opinion:
“I don’t think he’s a gifted finisher, he’s not a natural goalscorer”.
A day or two later, the goal against Spain marked Marcus's third in four England games since the World Cup and he delivered the assist for Raheem Sterling’s opener too. And these were fixtures against some of the best teams in the world game, remember.
It’s not the fault of Carragher, Jones and Merson. They are paid to give their opinions and everyone is entitled to one. Even they would probably concede this constant noise surrounding footballers’ performances and ability is something they did not have to contend with not so long ago.
Of course, it is also very easy to attempt to suggest a bit of perspective is needed on the back of a display from Marcus that made any critics quickly eat their words.
Yet that is my point really. Forward scores goal – he’s great. Forward misses chances – he’s not good enough.
This is reality – if Harry Kane’s run of international games without getting on the scoresheet stretches much further, his excellent assists in the 3-2 victory in Seville will not count for much.
If an opinion about Rashford can change in a matter of days, it’s pretty fair to summarise that there is no need to be so quick to judge. Especially somebody who has still to celebrate his 21st birthday and appears to be very much on the right track, particularly when comparing his career trajectory to his peers.
It will continue because this is the modern media world. Shout loudest, come out with the most outlandish opinion and it will get noticed. People will read it, or listen to it, and this will help shape their own views. If only we could just ignore all the noise surrounding Marcus Rashford and let him get on with his football, because some people do actually care about his age and long-term prospects.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.