Rash­ford stakes claim for United start­ing spot

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — “One lie, re­peated many times.” That was José Mour­inho’s mantra be­fore his Manchester United team had even kicked a ball in the Pre­mier League, when re­spond­ing to ques­tions about the lack of academy play­ers he had trusted over the years. Surely now he has a golden op­por­tu­nity to end such talk – one of the main con­cerns be­fore he was ap­pointed – that his ap­proach to man­age­ment is at odds with a club where youth pro­mo­tion and suc­cess have lived sym­bi­ot­i­cally for many years?

Mar­cus Rash­ford, the pre­co­cious tal­ent who few had heard of this time last year, has given him that op­por­tu­nity. An­other game, an­other fear­less dis­play from the 18-year-old, this time at Hull City, on an evening where he not only scored the win­ning goal but also pro­vided the kind of zest and at­tack­ing vi­vac­ity that the game, and United’s play, des­per­ately needed.

It was not the first time ei­ther. Rash­ford has con­tin­u­ally done so since mak­ing his sur­prise de­but in the Europa League last sea­son, com­ing in at short no­tice when An­thony Mar­tial pulled up in the pre­match warm-up to score twice against Midtjyl­land.

He did so again in the Manchester derby. He did so against West Ham United in the FA Cup. He did so on his Eng­land de­but against Aus­tralia and he did so in Lens at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, when Roy Hodg­son’s side were strug­gling to break down Wales.

In many ways it is re­mark­able that United’s fans had to wait 251 min­utes of the league sea­son be­fore see­ing him in ac­tion. They were not to be dis­ap­pointed when they did, Rash­ford pro­duc­ing a cameo per­for­mance that in­creased the pres­sure on a tir­ing Hull be­fore pro­vid­ing the de­ci­sive im­pact in in­jury time.

Mour­inho calls him “the kid”, a moniker that once be­fell a cer­tain Span­ish striker be­fore his move to Liver­pool, and Rash­ford be­came the first teenager to score un­der the Por­tuguese coach in the Pre­mier League. The next youngest was Ar­jen Robben dur­ing their Chelsea days, who was only a few months shy of his 21st birth­day.

It is be­com­ing dif­fi­cult to make an ar­gu­ment for Rash­ford’s ex­clu­sion from the start­ing XI against Manchester City af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break, should all Mour­inho’s play­ers re­turn to Car­ring­ton fully fit. From thereon in, he has to be an in­te­gral part of United’s plans rather than a bit-part player handed 20-minute bursts here and there.

Rash­ford’s dis­plays have been too con­sis­tent to sug­gest that he is rid­ing the crest of a wave. Ev­ery time he plays, he makes an im­pact. Be­fore he scored the win­ner at Hull he had al­ready forced an ex­cel­lent save from Eldin Jakupovic and de­liv­ered an invit­ing ball across goal that only just evaded Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic.

He has the deadly com­bi­na­tion of pace, skill and com­po­sure and, al­though Hull’s care­taker man­ager Mike Phelan said af­ter­wards that his ap­pear­ance off the bench re­minded him of one of Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer’s great cameos with United, such a role seems un­likely in the long-term.

Asked if Rash­ford was bet­ter utilised as a late sub­sti­tute rather than a starter, Mour­inho said: “I think top play­ers are bet­ter on the pitch than on the bench. But com­ing against a tired team that was try­ing to hold off high-in­ten­sity waves of at­tack­ing foot­ball, for sure he comes fresh and comes sharp and he causes them prob­lems.

But I think top play­ers have to have more time on the pitch than on the bench. I just want to say that he’s a very good player and a very good boy. He has the per­fect head for an 18-year-old: very sta­ble, not in the moon, so I think he has ev­ery­thing. He’s go­ing to play a lot of matches.”

Rash­ford will soon join the Eng­land Un­der-21 squad – which Mour­inho be­lieves will ben­e­fit the player more than a se­nior callup – and the dilemma the United man­ager could have is how the young­ster slots into his start­ing team. Ibrahi­movic’s place is a given, mean­ing Rooney, an out-of-form Mar­tial and Juan Mata come un­der scru­tiny.

Phelan, a man who has seen many United play­ers progress from youth to first team, de­scribed Rash­ford as an “ex­cep­tional tal­ent”, while Rooney said the teenager is “one of the bright­est tal­ents in Europe”.

He is ar­guably the most pos­i­tive thing to emerge from the Louis van Gaal era at Old Traf­ford and, for Mour­inho, rep­re­sents a ready-made op­por­tu­nity to place his faith in youth. Un­like with pre­vi­ous play­ers at for­mer clubs, there is lit­tle risk in play­ing Rash­ford. No tran­si­tion pe­riod from un­der-age foot­ball to the high­est level is re­quired.

Mour­inho can for­get colour-coded lists and young­sters who played 10 min­utes for him once upon a time. Rash­ford is ready to make more of an im­pres­sion than any of those be­fore him. — Guardian

Mar­cus rash­ford celebrates with Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic af­ter strik­ing in stop­page time to hand united all three points af­ter a bat­tling Hull per­for­mance.

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