Saturday 3 December 2016

Conveniently, Zlatan Ibrahimović doesn’t see the need to rush Marcus Rashford’s Man United journey

Tom Rooney

Published 11/09/2016 | 13:00

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford

A cynic would claim it to be coming from a position of self-preservation, but Zlatan Ibrahimović sees no reason to expedite Marcus Rashford’s elevation to a first team regular at Manchester United.

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Yesterday at Old Trafford the home fans were poignantly reminded that, in spite of the monstrous outlay on player recruitment this summer and the gravitas of their manager, their team is one still in serious need of refinement.

Luckily, for United fans, disappointment has been a familiar bedfellow for more than three years now.

That’s not to say that the hosts were completely abject, they simply encountered a far slicker City side, apparently further along the evolutionary chain under Pep Guardiola. Their 2-1 win was utterly deserved.

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And yet, United could easily have yielded a point from what was a compelling contest – had Zlatan Ibrahimović been more composed after being gifted a gild-edged opportunity by Claudio Bravo, the contest would have stood at 2-2 when the half time whistle sounded.

Instead, John Stones cleared the Swede’s limp effort off the line and City went on to secure a sixth successive win under Guardiola.

Since Mourinho succeeded Louis van Gaal, the only complaint from United fans to have gained any traction is centred on the Portuguese’s unwillingness to give Marcus Rashford a more prominent role. The teenager is yet to make a competitive start under the former Chelsea boss.

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Indeed, Sam Allardyce has heard the same klaxon call.

Mourinho made significant changes for his first Manchester derby, by dropping the out of sorts Anthony Martial and Juan Mata to the bench and replacing them with Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - the switch was a worthwhile experiment but ultimately not a fruitful one.

At half time the latter pair were replaced by Rashford and Ander Herrera as Mourinho sought to turn the tide and, for a time, United markedly improved.

Rashford immediately imbued United with his thrust and invention. He narrowly missed the target with one effort before having a goal disallowed after his shot deflected in off the offside Ibrahimović.

Rashford was the match winner in United’s 1-0 win over Hull and there is a very strong argument to be made that he and Anthony Martial were the only positives to be taken from Van Gaal’s tenure.

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Mourinho, when assessing some of his players who were overawed by the occasion, did note that Rashford revelled in it.

"Some of the guys, they felt it. It is nothing to do with experience and age. The kid (Marcus Rashford, who came on at half-time) looks like he is playing for the Under-18s against Salford City. Every individual reacts to demands of the occasion in different ways.”

That certainly doesn’t equate to a tacit omission of fault, and the probability is that this early in the season, Mourinho is unlikely to drop either Wayne Rooney or Ibrahimović, who netted his third league goal after strikes from Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho.

The former PSG striker believes the conjecture over Rashford’s development is needless.

"First of all, he’s 18, he’s still young. He has a lot of time," he told MUTV.

"I think the way you have to approach a player like that, where everyone is talking about the talent and what he’s able to do and what kind of potential he has, is to remember he still has a lot of time.

“It’s not like he needs to take over the world today, the club knows that, the coach knows that and the team knows that.

"We know his quality and what he’s able to do. What the world is seeing now, we already know because we see it every day. There is no need to rush to push him and put him in the heat zone and put a lot of pressure on him because that can have the opposite effect. Time by time, he will take over everything. It’s about having patience."

To be fair to Ibrahimović, who Mourinho claims was in part brought to the club to mentor the likes of Rashford, he claimed to be more than willing to impart the knowledge accrued over 15 years at the top.

"I’ll help him every day, him and all the others, in any way I can. I’m happy it gives an effect but, even if I was not here, they would still do good," he said.

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