How Rashford has proved the pundits wrong
There has been so much talk about Marcus Rashford becoming a no.9, and the whole notion of natural finishers, but a man who has worked closely with the Manchester United striker believes the whole debate is outdated.
Academy coach Colin Little spent countless hours on the training pitch with the England international in his youth-team days and helped the forward develop a different mindset. It is all about the goals now for United’s top scorer, but pigeon-holing players as traditional no.9s may be missing the point.
As Little explains, many sides no longer operate with an out-and-out centre-forward and the game has definitely evolved. Consequently, Rashford is able to provide a constant threat when stationed wider on the left and still rack up a healthy goal tally – and this is down to the work he puts in at the Aon Training Complex.
“It’s a process” explains Little. “There was a lot of debate about the no.9 and what it is. Now there aren’t many no.9s. Robert Lewandowski is one, Harry Kane is another, Tammy Abraham. Today’s forwards are people who go wide, left and right, and don’t just stand in the middle with their back to goal heading balls.“People are still called no.9s but they are all forwards now. Sergio Aguero isn’t a nine, Sadio Mane isn’t a nine, Gabriel Jesus isn’t a nine, Mohamed Salah isn’t a nine. Most forwards are really athletic guys who can beat a man and score goals. They can run in behind and press. They are not big lumps who play with their backs to goal because most teams don’t play like that anymore.
“They want it on their terms so the balls to them will be easier to control, without a centre-half tight against them. So they feel more comfortable if they’re in the wider areas rather than right up against defenders.“People would say Marcus won’t be able to score the right amount of goals on the left but he has got so many different ones now. You can tell a striker is getting better by the variety of goals he scores; from his head, left foot and right foot.
“If you actually look through his goals, he is scoring a variety. You add on penalties and free-kicks and then your numbers really start to go up. Balls were going in the box and he was stood in all sorts of different areas but not the right place to score. So the phrase I use is a forward has to be an eternal optimist. You have got to believe the cross is going to arrive at that place. That right area is called prime real estate and you have got to get there. He worked on it and is in the right places now.”
Former Reds striker Michael Owen is a believer that a small number of players are natural-born scorers. However, Little disagrees and feels strongly it is something that can be taught. He cites other examples as proof that hard work on the training ground can reap dividends when it comes to hitting the back of the net regularly.“I remember Michael doing a talk with us and it was mentioned,” Little added. “He literally said – you are born a goalscorer. I saw Graeme Souness and Jose Mourinho in the TV studio saying the same thing – you can’t teach people it. They were saying name one player and I was screaming at the TV!
“It’s a load of rubbish. Cristiano Ronaldo was a tricky winger. Before Pep Guardiola got to him, Raheem Sterling used to only score about six or seven a season. You could maybe say Mason [Greenwood] is more natural but maybe Michael is right that he was born a goalscorer. He says no coach ever taught him, apart from Steve Heighway teaching him the near-post run, but maybe he is an exception and freakish.
“So his way of looking at it was – I was born to do that so everybody else must have been. But others have to learn it. Marcus has got 19 goals and it winds me up because that Aston Villa one [when his header hit the woodwork first and was eventually given as an own-goal against Tom Heaton] would have made it 20. I’m sure Michael once said Marcus was not a 20-goal-a-season striker, so I was looking forward to ringing him up about it!”
For Little, the mentality of a forward has to be right. Rashford’s fellow Academy graduate Greenwood had the thirst for goals at a younger age but there is little doubt Marcus now shares this philosophy.“I’m forever hearing that Mason is more of a no.9 but he likes to be in the spaces, in between the sides, and go running in behind. Football is ever-changing and so, sometimes, you get a bit frustrated seeing the pundits talk about it on TV.
“When you hear it’s in people’s DNA, but certain things change and coaching makes the difference. You can see Marcus is now taking on the responsibility of a goalscorer. If he doesn’t score, he is not happy. If he does score, he expects to score. So it becomes a responsibility and then you get given the penalties because you are the main scorer.“There’s the ball – you’re our goalscorer. Suddenly, that breeds its own confidence. In the past, I felt Marcus sometimes played with anxiety. He played a lot of minutes but they were minutes with anxiety. If he missed a chance, and I’ve been there as a player, you know that, if you don’t score soon, you’re going to come off. So, when a chance comes along, you’re not really ready to take it. Now you see he’s like, if I miss this chance, just give me the next one.
“If you strip it all back, Marcus, as a kid, was like the reason why you play football was to go past people, like George Best, and I understand that. A lot of Academy football is like that, they want to embarrass their opponents and go back for a bit more. But the people who get the goals make the biggest difference.
“We had to try to get Marcus to believe that," admitted Little. “Mason was upset if he hadn’t scored whereas Marcus was just as happy with a great dribble past four or five players. He’d been the key player but not scoring a goal so we tried to just change his mindset a little bit. Whereas, scoring goals was always Mason’s thing.“Marcus probably wanted to emulate a player like Ronaldo, a dribbler, and all kids are like that. But we used to say to him: ‘You’re scoring spectacular ones but you’re not getting any of the other ones. I spoke to Ole at the coffee machine about it because I was thinking exactly like him. If you can add six or seven scruffy ones, how many are you going to get in a season?
“When you’re at the back post and the ball comes right through a crowd so you get a tap-in, or something drops at your feet. You still have to be able to take those chances. They’re the ones you need for them to start adding up. I still text him now to say: ‘Those numbers are stacking up, Marcus.’ You know Ronaldo doesn’t get 45 goals a season without those. He scores them all, doesn’t he?”
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