Comment: Jose Mourinho can no longer waste Marcus Rashford's fearlessness as Manchester derby looms
Like prodigies before him, the teenager 'just does it' - and both club and country should be seizing on this boldness of youth
It is something that Michael Owen said about being an 18-year-old footballer in a very compelling new interview which gets to the heart of why Marcus Rashford is playing in a way that we will witness only very briefly before this particular kind of flame is extinguished.
“When I was 18 I feared nothing,” Owen said. “I just did it. It didn’t matter who I was playing against. I had an unshakeable self-belief. Nothing bothered me. The prospect of scoring against Argentina at the World Cup? It felt natural.”
Later in his career, Owen did what you or I would do in his position. He’d look at the team sheet of the team he was up against, know that if he was up against Rio Ferdinand or John Terry he might have a problem on his hands, so would target “the other centre half, maybe play on him instead, because he wasn’t as strong. You lose that air of fearlessness.” The interview is in Simon Hughes’ new book on Liverpool in the last decade, entitled ‘Ring of Fire.’
And so it is with Rashford, an 18-year-old who does not have the consciousness to consider being second best and who plays his football in the raw. Most players who had been dumped to the Manchester United bench and enjoyed only 19 minutes of competitive football under Jose Mourinho this season would let that play on their mind.
If they also happened to be consigned to the England under-21 team they would set out with something to prove - and then perhaps be tight, tense and perform less well. Not Rashford. He, too, just “did it”, as Owen put it, scoring a scintillating hat-trick in the 6-1 demolition of Norway at Colchester on Tuesday night.
Rashford’s consignment to the margins is what you get with Mourinho, as we all know. It is the problem with Mourinho. If Mourinho had been in charge at United last season, we can safely assume that Rashford would not even have burst onto the scene in the way he has. There would not have been that breakthrough goal in a Manchester derby, and all that followed. That’s because Mourinho is, of course, rarely inclined to take a punt on an untried 17-year-old.
When the United manager was asked about Rashford’s demotion to the under 21s last week, he had his answers ready, of course, because it is his limited part at Old Trafford this season which had contributed to the situation.
“The situation with England is funny because when you are 18 years old and are in the Under-21 national team, I don't think it's a drama," Mourinho said. "To be honest, for his development, I think it's better to be in the Under-21s and play two international matches than go to Slovakia with the first team and sit watching Harry Kane and [Jamie] Vardy and those experienced players that Sam is going to select…”
Palpable nonsense. Rashford revealed in the very fleeting role he got at the European Championships this summer that he is senior England class, not under 21. He makes things happen. Club? Country? It’s immaterial. When you are 17 or 18, the fearlessness is just the same. Within 12 months of scoring on his debut for Liverpool against Wimbledon, Owen had become a regular in the team and scored against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.
The arrival and impact of Zlatan Ibrahimovich is naturally delighting United fans as much as the swagger which has been restored to the side. But Ibrahimovich is in the home straight of his career. He will look at the team sheet and decide who the other centre half is.
United would be far better served by Rashford being given the starting place which he warrants. Great if Zlatan flourishes. Sublime if Rashford does, at a club which has always loved developing its own jewels. It’s six months since he became the youngest scorer in a Manchester derby. His starting place in Saturday’s local clash should not even constitute a debate.
Independent News Service